The recent executions in Arkansas shine light on our attitudes regarding injustice. Over the past few weeks the state of Arkansas executed death row inmates by lethal injection. One of them, Ledell Lee, had been found guilty of assault and murder. I am smart enough to know there are always two sides to every story… if two or more people are involved, there are two or more perspectives of what happened. However, as I see it reported, Mr. Lee asked for DNA testing to prove he was innocent, and even though numerous fingerprints were found at the crime scene, none of them were matched with his. Still, he was executed.
At the same time, we have news of bombs and assassinations in other countries. This stuff disturbs me, as it should every human, Christian or not. Our justice system is a complicated matter, and it’s clearly inconsistent, but the spirit of retaliation (an eye for an eye) truly gets us nowhere. The number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “Just kill him,” or “Good, he deserved it,” is unnerving. I take it as an appeal to reflect on why we, as humanity, wish harm or evil on others. Yes, an injustice happened and something needs to be done about it. But when do we look at the issue as a whole and not simply “take care of” the perpetrator? And yes, if Ledell took part in a woman’s death, he needs to be held accountable. But if it ends there, it’s nothing more than retaliation, and our world is in desperate need of so much more. I believe that it’s past time to take a hard look at our own societal attitudes and question why these injustices happen in the first place; then, we need to work to transform human action. I suppose it’s rehabilitation as opposed to retaliation.
Dealing with injustice can be unsettling. There are times when I can almost reach out and touch the sense of anticipation after a missile launch. It can’t possibly benefit our minds and hearts to be eagerly waiting reports of chaos and catastrophe. That isn’t to say I don’t think military action is never needed. By all means, ISIS needs to be stopped and no dictator should be allowed to conduct mass genocide. But, to turn up our nose and celebrate anyone’s death is a despicable detriment to the well-being of our world. You see, none of the gospel writers depict Jesus as happy - or even content - with any destruction of earthly life. When we go on to read the rest of Matthew’s interpretation of Christ, we find this, “But I say to you, do not resist an evil-doer… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Why, we might ask, wouldn’t we annihilate anyone who sins against us? The answer is plain and simple in the gospels; Matthew’s author instructs, “…so that you might be children of [God].” Both the Old and New Testaments point us to something greater than our own understanding. If we take verse 38 of Matthew’s fifth chapter and apply it to our own law of retaliation, we miss the whole point of the gospel. The text begs us to stop all the hate and ill-will and allow space for God’s glory to breathe in our midst.
I have come to realize that if I seek only that which fulfills my personal opinion, then I’m doing nothing better, and nothing greater, than that very opinion I reject. I can’t be so close-minded that there’s no room left for what God intends for the world. We are called to so much more. And as a follower of Christ, I know more is possible.