The news is full of items worthy of serious theological reflection but perhaps none more so of late than the freeing of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi (the Libyan convicted of the bombing of Pan American Flight 103) and the re-instatement of Michael Vick (the now backup quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was convicted and completed his sentence of leading a dog fighting ring). In both cases there are three concepts Christians should consider: justice, vengeance, and grace.
While the two men are probably as far removed from one another as possible, they both generated the same feeling amongst many Americans in recent weeks, a disgust that any sympathy is being showed to either man. They differ from one another in the seriousness of the crime (Megrahi “wins” hands down on that one, if he is guilty) and their acknowledgement of it (Vick owned up to his crime whereas Megrahi has consistently proclaimed his innocence).
The key point for Christians to ask themselves is when grace applies. Vick’s defenders argue that he paid for his time in prison and has expressed remorse. Megrahi defenders say the case against him is far from clear cut and, most significantly, he is dying of prostate cancer and only has a few months to live. Their detractors argue that all these men say is self serving (Vick for money and Megrahi for fame) and their crimes warrant civilized society voicing a strong “no” to their behavior.
What’s important at this time for Christians first to ask themselves is whether we are for uplifting justice (a very Biblical concept) or whether we are trying to enact vengeance (something the Bible warns us strongly against). Do we believe if Megrahi had been kept in prison his last two months this would prevent future terrorism? Do we believe that keeping Vick out of the NFL will prevent dog fighting? Do we believe keeping them in a negative status will produce positive societal results? If so, we are on the side of justice.
But if we at our core don’t care about positive societal results and what drives us is wanting for these two men to face unrelenting punishment, then this goes beyond justice and we are in the realm of an ever darkening vengeance .
Grace is the most challenging of all of the three concepts. Grace, which is unmerited forgiveness, is something we know we have received from God through Jesus. But when are we human beings called to offer it? Always? Society could not function and chaos would ensue. Never? That sounds like hell to me. So, the key question is, when should we apply grace?
I’ll close not with an answer but with the three formal definitions. Where we go from there is something we all should pray about.
Justice: : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.
Vengeance: punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense.
Grace: A virtue coming from God and a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.
All the best and In Christ,