I have met some of the worst criminals our justice system has ever dealt with. One of the most engaging and personable men I know, I have been told by a member of the police force, committed the ‘worst murder I have ever seen’. I have had lunch with Australia’s most frequent offending serial paedophile. I have discussed Christian commitment with company executives who have defrauded mums and dads of tens of millions of dollars of life savings.
I sometimes don’t know what to do with these facts.
Meeting the men themselves, they are ordinary people with the same wants, needs, expectations and desires of any human being. They are all people created in the image of God who, like me, need reconciliation with God. That I can deal with. But if I dwell too long on their crimes …
None of them is any different to me. We are all sinners needing reconciliation with a holy God. Before God, without the intervention of Jesus, I stand equally condemned as any of these criminals. Our justice system has never had any cause to deal with me. I have never committed a crime. But, before God, I am no different to any of these men.
None of these men have any excuse for what they did. Each of them has been justly punished. But when I think about their victims I sometimes think that there is no punishment harsh enough for the pain and suffering they have caused. I even find it hard sometimes, when thinking about their victims, to believe that a holy God would allow them entrance into heaven. But yes, in fact, that is the nature of the forgiveness I myself benefit from. A holy God, who accepts me into heaven, will also accept any of these men into heaven.
Saying all of this is all well and good. I know that as a sinner, I am no better than any of these men. That is, I know it, if I don’t think too much about their victims. I recently read this incredible statement in John Swinton’s book Raging with Compassion, “There is no bipolar separation between the evil-doer and the innocent victim.”
Hang on. Swinton is not just talking about no difference between me and the criminal, in that we both need forgiveness. He’s talking about no difference between the criminal and the victim. He continues, “Both need forgiveness and redemption, and, even though we find it difficult, Jesus died for both.” Yes. I know that in my head, and I believe it in my heart, but does it truly shape the way I relate to the criminal?
What I’ve been saying is that I can relate to the criminal as long as I don’t think too much about the victim. What Swinton is encouraging me to do is actually be more holistic and integrated in my beliefs and understand that the shed blood of Jesus covers the whole of every human encounter. I am to understand that me, the criminal and the victim are in need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the things each of us has done wrong.
How is restorative justice possible where both perpetrator and victim come together? Ultimately it is made possible only through the shed blood of Jesus. The victim doesn’t remain a victim. They are not simply a person who has suffered or been treated wrongly. They are a person who is restored by Christ standing in their place. And I don’t mean that Christ simply identifies with their suffering. They have suffered wrongly and unjustly. And yet true restoration comes to them when Christ dies for the punishment they deserve for their own wrong-doing against God.
Life often brings things that hurt. There are no easy solutions nor glib answers. The whole of Creation groans. The Christian’s answer is to ask, “How long, O Lord?” This lament both acknowledges suffering and calls out in hope that God will finally bring that Day when there is no more pain and no more tears. It recognises that every part of living is covered by the death of Christ at Calvary.
You see, the hard place in which there is good news, is life itself. None of life makes sense without the good news that Jesus has covered every action and situation, every perpetrator, every victim, every person with his own blood. There is a wholeness to life which is found only in Jesus.