Thought for the Day - 21/11/2013 - Rev Dr Sam Wells
Good morning. Can there be a limit to justice? Should there be no further investigations, inquiries or inquests into killings that predate the Good Friday Agreement, as the Attorney General for Northern Ireland suggested yesterday? Such a suggestion highlights two profoundly different notions of justice.
The first kind of justice is justice for those in charge – who command budgets and oversee procedure. They’re saying convictions for crimes committed a generation ago are hard to come by. They think truth will emerge more readily once the threat of punishment is removed.
The second kind of justice is justice for the wounded. The day your child was gunned down is a day you’ll never forget as long as you live. Nothing’s going to take away your ache to know what happened, who was responsible, and how they’ll be held to account. The accusations in tonight’s Panorama that a virtual terror group existed within the British army in the early seventies will seriously underscore that.
Both kinds of justice matter. Arguably it was the chronic absence of the first kind among those in charge that brought about the Troubles in the first place. But the devastating legacy of the Troubles is the second kind – the blood of the victims that cries from the ground.
However this debate turns out, neither kind of justice is adequate on its own. Law protects us from tyranny and arbitrary violence. But the things we most need the law can’t give us. There’s a lot more to justice than getting a conviction and putting a person behind bars. We need to go deeper than prosecutions and deeper than punishment.
Going deeper involves naming our own hatred. Our hatred may be rooted in a desperate determination to go on living and not be dismantled by grief and hurt. But not to be consumed by hatred requires us to unravel a bigger story. When Jesus was nailed to the cross he said, ‘Father forgive them: they don’t know what they’re doing.’ Moving beyond hatred means recognising that the people who hurt us so badly didn’t truly know what they were doing – even if they thought they did. They were part of a bigger story too.
This doesn’t mean denying our earlier hatred. It involves allowing ourselves to be gradually dispossessed of that hatred. Eventually we understand that hatred as part of a whole series of events, mostly outside our control.
This is a journey beyond justice. It’s not something the law or the state can really help us with. Journeying beyond justice takes us to places we call forgiveness and healing. It takes us to the heart of who we are; and into the heart of God.