Skip to main content

just for criminals and wrongdoers...

I am reading through Leviticus these days and though the book can get tedious to a modern Western mind (like mine) that can’t comprehend why all these regulations and stipulations for worship and sacrifices are necessary, if you remember that this is a holy God communicating a way of doing things in order that people can approach him and not die (for we humans seem to have a certain propensity towards death and sin instead of life and righteousness, and God has an unfaltering desire to bring humankind near to him)…well, it all makes a lot more sense.

One of the things that struck me about the difference between Levitical law then and our law now is how we have divorced the consequences from any sinful or illegal act. Any crime, no matter what it is, is punishable by jail time (or some restriction of freedom such as house arrest or parole) or a payment of money. The very heart of God screams, “Restore! Repair! Redeem!” in order that relationships and communities might become whole again, yet when our society seeks to make people “pay” for their transgressions, the main punishment we dole out is alienation. It is much easier to punish a person than to teach them how to make it right. Simple impersonal punishment will never change someone’s heart.

One weekend, many many years ago, a few drunken vandals smashed up the mailbox at the end of the laneway leading to our family farm. It didn’t take the police long to catch the young men (drunken criminals are not all that bright) and when they asked my father if he wanted to press charges, he said no, he wanted someone to come and fix his mailbox. The officer made arrangements for the perpetrators to come to my father’s workshop on a Saturday morning and I remember peering out the living room window, waiting for them to arrive, wondering what heinous criminals would look like and feeling a certain fear in my young heart that my father would invite such dangerous persons onto our farm. A young man finally showed up, over an hour late, obviously ill at ease and so nervous about what lay ahead that he had felt the need to down some liquid courage before he came. His friend had refused to come.

I have no idea what exactly transpired between my father and the young man that morning. An hour or two later they emerged from the workshop and much to my relief, my father was unharmed and in fact, seemed taller than he had been that morning when he left the breakfast table; the criminal seemed calm, rather small, and not as menacing as I had imagined. The scarred and dented mailbox went back up on the wooden post later that day and every time I fetched the mail in the next few weeks, I wondered about our vandal. I hoped that he had learned a lesson and didn’t do mean things anymore. I hoped he had stopped drinking too much. I hoped he had listened to whatever it was that my father had said to him. And most of all, I hoped that he had appreciated what a fine man my father was and learned something about compassion and justice and restoration.

What if every time we committed a crime or a sin against someone, we had to make it right? What if you had to come face to face with the person you offended and work together to find a solution? What if you could not simply hide behind prison bars but had to support the family you stole from or rebuild that house you burnt down? I understand that in the case of violent crimes, protecting the innocent is a primary concern, but there must be a better way to deal with violent people than to put them all together in isolation? How will they learn any other way of life? How can they become people of righteousness if they are never around it?

We have mistakenly assumed that withdrawal and isolation are the best way to deal with problems, be they personal or societal – it is easier, but hardly effective. God always says, “Come.” If you are a criminal or a wrongdoer, God says come. If you have been wronged, God says come. And when we as wrongdoers and those who have been wronged can say "Come" to each other, then we will begin to see restoration.

Comments

reaching goals said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doug Floyd said…
What a delightful reminder of our call to live in relationship. Rules and regulations like we see in Leviticus only have meaning when expressed in the context of a community struggling to live out the call to relationship. Thank you Matte.

Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

lessons from a theological memoir and a television series about lawyers

It's a hot Wednesday afternoon, so let's talk about false binaries. Basically, a false binary or false dichotomy happens when a person's options are artificially limited to two choices, thereby excluding all other possibilities. Insisting on the limited choice of either A or B leaves no room for middle ground or another, more creative solution. In other words, a false binary assumes the rest of the alphabet (after A and B) does not exist.

Binary thinking is quite prevalent in our society. Either you are for me or against me. Either you are guilty or innocent. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, conservative or liberal. Either you are a Christian or a pagan. Either you are all in or all out. Admittedly, it is convenient to see things as either black or white, but we live in a multi-coloured world and not everything fits neatly into two categories. This is why insisting there are only two choices when, in fact, other options exist, is labeled as a fallacy in logic an…