On justice vs. compassion

Today, the Scottish government has released, on compassionate grounds, former Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people. He has been serving a life sentence for this crime in a Scottish prison.   He is now dying of cancer.

The United States has expressed dismay over this release.  Apparently, however, there is a provision in Scottish law allowing for such action on the basis of compassion. The talking heads on television are all over this today, drumming up outrage:   How in the heck can a government write compassion into law?

Can it have anything to do with the lack of separation between Church and State in a place like Scotland?  Are we, in the US, which sometimes styles itself as the first  country in  the world to be founded on Christian principles, horrified that in this instance, through an instrument of law, the teaching of Christ, famous for his compassion, has trumped our sense of Justice?

Can anyone hear the admonition:  “Go and learn what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice”?

Or do we really believe that compassion has no place in law, no place in government?  And if that is true, have we not effectively excluded God from our way of life, whatever we do or don’t print on our money or recite in our pledge?

Let me break it down like this.  To Christians, at least, the injunction is given:  “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”… and, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”   But in our secular society, we turn this exactly on its head, and say that we humans must exact vengeance and leave it up to God to forgive if he wants.  Christians, at least, are required (not just permitted) to forgive.  Will “Christian” voices now become among the loudest to shout how wrong the Scottish government is in failing to exact the fullest repayment of evil for evil?  If this occurs, I can only then return to the words of scripture:

They will have justice without mercy who have shown no mercy; but Mercy triumphs over (=trumps) Justice! (James 2:13)


One thought on “On justice vs. compassion

  1. Can it have anything to do with the lack of separation between Church and State in a place like Scotland?

    Interesting question and thank you for asking it! This topic is fascinating to me. While I’m a big advocate for the “wall of separation” between church and state here in the U.S. I have to admit it’s in no small part because the American church–at least, the American church that is politically engaged–tends to be Taliban-like in its repressiveness. If the liberal American church were as prominent in the culture as Focus on the Family, I have to wonder if I might feel differently.

    That said, I was really struck by my trip to Scandinavia last summer. Norway, by example, is extemely secular, there is gay marriage on the books, abortion is legal, etc. etc. And yet, the Lutheran Church was, until about 5 years ago (?? I’d need to look it up), the official church of Norway. That meant that everyone born in Norway was automatically born a Lutheran. If you wanted your children to be Jewish, Muslim, Souther Baptist or nothing at all, you had to petition the government.

    I don’t think we in America can even comprehend what it means to have an “official state religion.” The idea that the government would even have an interest in what religion you are is completely alien to Americans.

    Furthermore, the Norwegian government still (or at least, they did until recently) appointed church bishops and other church officials. AND gave the church money.

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