Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Lie of Human Judgement

I must confess that I never "liked the look" of Jimmy Saville. Something about him was wrong, and it is only in later years that my feelings were ratified. However, was I right to think like this? What if I'd been wrong?

There will always be someone we don't like the look of. There will always be that person on the bus who doesn't look right, or doesn't behave themselves in a manner in which we would expect in society. They might "dress like a thug" or sniff loudly or put their feet up on the seat opposite. Of course, body-language experts might be able to reveal an awful lot about someone by the way that they look, but we are not all body language experts.

If a man comes to a job interview with scruffy shoes, it used to be said that his chances of getting the job would plummet. This may or may not be true in this day and age, but the reasoning is there:

1) Anyone who wants the job will dress well.
2) This man is not dressed well.
3) He doesn't want the job.

The first premise is clearly the one to challenge. Do we know that anyone who wants the job will dress well? Yet, the second premise is also in doubt. The man might be dressed as well as he can be. Accidents happen and shoes can get scuffed. The fact that he has turned up to the interview would suggest that the man does want the job, though this can be doubted.

And there we see the point. Everything thing we see about a person may suggest something about them, but there is always doubt; there always must be doubt. We simply do not know what it is like to be the other person. There is no philosophical proof that would even make the existence of other minds irrefutable. It is reasonable to assume that everyone has their own mind, but in doing so, we are forced to say that if other people have minds, then we cannot ever know them.

Appearances merely suggest. They produce possibilities. Whether these possibilities generate probabilities is another matter, and one that can be argued either way.

The Prophet Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh on the grounds that God might forgive the Ninevites their misdeeds. Jonah wants justice. God wants mercy. Only in God can the two be reconciled, but for Jonah there should be no mercy. They have behaved abominably and Jonah wants their blood. In the end God's mercy prevails. The Ninevites repent and are saved, and Jonah is presented with the dreadful fact that God loves his enemies.

And then the Lord Jesus comes along and shows us that God loves His enemies.

And that stings! It scandalises and seems to go against anything that we might ascribe as justice.

For it means that God loves Jimmy Saville despite his abusing women and children under the cover of his charity work. It means that God loves serial killers like Ted Bundy, and Geoffrey Dahmer. It means that God loves the perpetrators of the murders of millions like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and even members of ISIS. Further than that, it also means that if any one of these folk actually, really, truly, and honestly repent, they would be forgiven. And that's the scandal! There is a possibility that we might meet each one of them in the New Jerusalem with God for all Eternity.

The Lie is that our judgement is correct: they are definitely, 100% truly will be in Hell.

We can'r say that, because we haven't got the right to make the decision to send people to Hell. Yet, if God doesn't send them to Hell, what does this say about all the suffering that these people have caused? Doesn't God care that people are scarred, hurt, humiliated, tortured, and killed at the hands of these monsters? Doesn't that matter?

Of course it matters to God. In the 99th Psalm we read:

Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among such as call upon his Name: these called upon the Lord, and he heard them. He spake unto them out of the cloudy pillar: for they kept his testimonies, and the law that he gave them.Thou heardest them, O Lord our God: thou forgavest them, O God and punishedst their own inventions.

If the righteous Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were forgiven AND punished, then how much more everyone else?

It is clear that forgiveness does not mean that we get away scot-free from sin. Justice must be served. But Justice in the old sense of the word really means Righteousness: they are synonyms. Justice means obliteration of wrong. Where God is, there can be no sin, because God is what it means to be Good. Any sin whatsoever separates us from God. For Christians, we have the atoning sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but participation in that sacrifice requires tears and sorrow for our sins: we really do have to be truly sorry.

This is the reason why I believe in Purgatory. I see Purgatory as a mercy of God to help those who have died in sin find God again. It cannot be pleasant: it is the transformation of the self that should have taken place. Herein is the punishment due, where time is served, and the hearts willingly broken and made contrite. Even if my pious opinion is wrong, we can be sure that somehow God will offer forgiveness and mete out due punishment.

Yet, what business is it of ours that Hitler, Dahmer and Saville receive punishment? Largely our response is an expression of outrage at what they have done, how they have destroyed lives and how they have made the world a worse place to live. While that evil goes unchallenged, it remains and we loathe it.

Why do we loathe it? The answer is very simple. We are human beings. We bear the image of God - each one of us. Each one of us is an ikon of our Creator, though we mar and deface that image. That image remains no matter what we do. And it is that image that gives us a visceral loathing for the evil that gets inflicted on the innocent. The trouble is that the perpetrators of this evil also bear the image of God. We somehow have to see that image in these people. We try not to: we dehumanise them, call them monsters, shut them in prison so we cannot look at them, all because they bear the same humanity that we do and, worse still, they bear the image of the same loving, merciful and Holy God.

This is why we need to exercise reason when we execute our human justice. We cannot take away another's humanity for whatever reason, but we must address their crimes and seek some recompense for the victims. It is not an easy task and involves careful thought and prayer.

In our everyday lives and judgements, it means we have to wrestle and strive to see the image of God in each and every person we encounter, regardless of any single aspect or appearance that they exhibit. There are no exceptions: it is something Christ commands us to do.

When faced with even the most appalling injustice, we must remember that we do have a God who can wipe away every tear from our eyes, who can heal, restore, re-create, and renew ANYTHING that has been broken or destroyed, who will forgive us AND punish us, all so that we can be with Him forever. If we are with Him forever, then there will be no sin, nor evil, nor hatred, nor injustice: that we can be sure of if we believe in Him.

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