Thursday, 20 August 2009

More on justice and mercy

Today the Scottish government decided to release the person imprisoned for the Lockerbie air attack. I was interested this evening to read this in ENI:

The (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland has said it fully supports a decision taken by the Scottish Government on 20 August to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, on compassionate grounds.
"This decision has sent a message to the world about what it is to be Scottish," the Rev. Ian Galloway, convenor of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said in a statement. "We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not choose mercy?"
Galloway said in his statement that the jailed man's release was not about whether a single individual was innocent or guilty.

"Nor is it about whether he had the right to mercy, but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful. I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims' families and I respect their views," said the church leader.
"But to them I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead, our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met the challenge. We have gained something significant as a nation by this decision. It is a defining moment for us all," said Galloway.
Reading the Church of Scotland's statement really made me think again about the justice and mercy issue, about our human desire to punish others for what they have done, our wish to see others rot because of what we have lost ... set against the gospel imperative.
This is complicated for me, as I've said in a previous post I tend to choose justice over mercy. What I like about the Church of Scotland's statement is that it doesn't try to be too pious, that it sees mercy as giving something more back to all and not just to the individual.
I am though still left wondering, saddened too perhaps by my own (I think righteous) anger that makes me choose justice over mercy in many, many cases. This tries not to be a mercy that doesn't care about the victims, and yet it is a mercy than the families of many victims will find very hard to understand.
Perhaps those of us who hunger and thirst for justice need to recognise that the merciful are also referred to as "blessed" in the Beatitudes:
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Perhaps the gospel imperative is both to justice and to mercy - a mercy that does not allow for impunity and a justice that never forgets the transformative power of forgiveness.


janetlees said...

Mercy - it's tricky.
We'd all like to have some - 'Lord have mercy' we pray often, but what about dishing it out?
Not so sure - perhaps becasue few people are really sure what it is, what it feels like. But here we have all seen and to some extent felt in our different ways what mercy is like.
Good to speak to you last night.

Lac19 said...

You can't be merciful on behalf of others, not particularly when you are not counted amongst the victims or their families. Isn't this a sort of arrogance of the merciful — I am more merciful than you! And I also am able to show you what to be truly Scottish is...

I could understand if they allowed/helped the family of the guy to visit him during his final days. I could even understand if they released him from a intensive care unit. But this guy walked by himself... c'mon. In my view this only undermines people's trust in justice.

Am I too cruel?