Friday, August 21, 2009
Get out of Jail Free
Good morning God,
I am someone who has never believed in the death penalty, yet I find I am totally bemused by the action taken yesterday to free Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds so that he could go home to die. This is now the second time that a notorious prisoner has had a 'get out of jail free' card dealt to them by their health. Earlier this month, Ronnie Biggs was released on the grounds that he was "gravely ill".
It makes me wonder whether this will apply to all prisoners in the future?
Is this your work God? Are we actually becoming a more compassionate, caring society, or are we sitting lightly to the social contract which is often all that seems to prevent this post-athiestic society sliding into anarchy?
I find nothing in your Word to suggest that forgiveness is dependent upon age or infirmity, and even less to suggest that mercy is a gift given best in the shadow of the grim reaper. Am I wrong in thinking that such acts of 'compassion' or mercy are actually a denial of what compassion and mercy should really be?
Forgiveness of course, is not a gift that the courts can give. You alone have the power to wipe clean the blood that has been spilt and the harm that has been done. Being 'freed' by the state to 'go and sin no more' on the grounds that you are too old or too infirm to be able to do so, is a hollow mockery of the life-giving gift which is offered to us in Christ.
Showing compassion or mercy to a prisoner who is dying without showing the same compassion and mercy for those who must still live with the consequences of that prisoner's actions seems peculiarly unjust. It also places a primacy on the negative dimensions of death which is ultimately totally destructive of all that is good and essential in humanity. If we ever come to think of death as being so terrible, so final that we are truly helpless in the face of it and can do nothing but abandon all our morals and values before it, then I think humanity will be doomed. Instead of a precious gift which you give to savour and enjoy, life will become a fight to live and a race to fit everything in before we die. Worse, the dying will become the new lepers of society, shunned by the state, looked on with compassion and dread by those who will not confront their own future. Fear and nihilism instead of hope and love will dictate all our decisions, whether political, social or religious.
This is a denial of your gospel.
Death does not have the victory.
Death is NOT the end.
But sending someone 'home' to die, presumes that it is. It presumes that the state can do nothing more, and that your final judgement now awaits the prisoner.
But, correct me if I am wrong God, you have never told us that we can abdicate our responsibilities in this way. Your commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves does not have a get out of jail free clause - You did not say we should love our neighbour as ourselves until our neighbour is dead or dying.
Loving those who hate us is one of the things that you expressly command us to learn how to do. Whether they are terrorists, or robbers, rapists or pedophiles, they are our neighbours, and even after seventy times seven we are still called to forgive them, and love them and help them to live eternally.
A justice system based on the fundamental principles of compassion and mercy for all of humanity, on love of neighbour and a belief in the good in all will not see death as an end to incarceration. Death will be recognised as that part of the fullness of human life which provides an opportunity for reflection, repentance, confession and contrition.
On that basis it would have been more compassionate for the state to encourage and enable Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi to face his impending death and consider the consequences of his actions in the light of it rather than simply to abandon him to it. Perhaps the state could have arranged for those whose family were killed by his act to visit with him, share with him their grief? Just sending him home to die is nothing more or less than issuing a death penalty.
In the life, death and resurrection of Christ you prove that death is not a penalty, neither is it a get out of jail free card. It is a part of the fullness of life which you have promised us. What should really define us is not how we enable or release people to die, but how we enable or release people to live.
God, save me from the time of trial, and grant me true compassion for those who sin against me, so that I may be forgiven for the sins I commit against them. Above all, save me from the mistaken belief that I only need to do this before I die. Lord, teach me to LIVE a compassionate life that I might be spared the dread of death, and grant me the grace to encourage and enable others to do likewise.