Oscar Pistorius, the former South African Paralympian, is up for parole after having served half of his sentence. In 2013 he was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius claimed he thought she was an intruder when he shot her four times through the locked bathroom door.
As part of his possible parole, he must now face Steenkamp’s parents, which is their right under the law, in the process known as “restorative justice”. This will be very emotional and painful as they feel they are speaking for their daughter who can’t speak for herself. They will state how her death has impacted them if anyone can ever articulate such a thing.
Restorative justice focuses on repairing the damage done to all parties following a crime. How is that even possible especially if that crime was murder? We think of repairing as fixing and restoring so how can the loss of a life ever be fixed or restored for those loved ones who are left behind? Some of the key components of restorative justice are accountability, owning the wrongdoing, and making reparation for it but can the punishment ever be balanced against making amends, paying for such a crime?
Really makes you think about forgiveness and fairness and justice, doesn’t it? Let’s clarify. You’ve heard people say, “that’s not fair.” Yup, maybe it isn’t….but who ever said that we each should expect to have a life that is always fair. Life just isn’t fair for countless thousands, no millions, of people around the world. There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t had challenges and turmoil and thus felt unfairly treated at some point.
“In this life you will have trouble…” John 16:33 This is a fact.
And as for forgiveness, well, Reeva Steenkamp’s mother says she has forgiven Pistorius, God bless her, but Steenkamp’s father struggles with this according to some news sources. Honestly, I’d probably struggle too if it was my child who’d been murdered. Still, I admire people who can forgive someone who has caused such a horrific nightmare in their lives. Funny how we categorize levels of forgiveness within ourselves. I could forgive this infraction against me but not that one depending on how much hurt was inflicted. The whole phrase, “to forgive someone”, doesn’t fit the supreme act that forgiveness is. I’m forgiving far, far more for me than for the perpetrator who may not even care if they are forgiven. However they live with their act is up to them.
Forgiving and not seeking revenge is my part so that my own life is not strangled in the ever-tightening weight of anger and despair, allowing it to eat me up while slowly changing me, the person I am, forever. I’m forgiving the offense so that I can continue on with freedom in my own life, I maintain my own power, something we all need to strive for no matter the degree of wrongdoing that we feel was done to us.
That leaves us with justice, basically getting what we deserve. As I said, restorative justice addresses this as much as possible. Does the penalty fulfill that criteria? Did we get what we deserved?
We know “the Lord loves justice.” Psalm 37:28
We also know “God is love.” 1 John 4:16
We see and know and witness that both statements are absolutely true. So how does God reconcile the two? While indeed he loves us with a love so deep and wide there is no end, he also demands justice. We’ve all seen the depictions of the loving Jesus with his arms outstretched to welcome the children or of Jesus rescuing the lost sheep that he himself pursued. But Jesus is also the supreme warrior, indeed our champion fighting the evil in this world. Plus, the Bible tells us clearly that a day of judgement is coming for every single person, but we shun that thought. We humans prefer to accept the good part of this equation, the love portion, but not the judgement side.
“For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
2 Corinthians 5:10
So the uncomfortable truths are these:
Yes, life is often unfair. We see that for young and old alike, rich and poor, no matter who you are or what your circumstances are.
We cannot make right our wrongs, no matter what good works we do to atone for them. We cannot un-ring that bell as they say.
We will each be judged.
But here is the good news! The rest of John 16:33 says, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Even though we are not promised a burden-free life, we can overcome and still remain joyful because Jesus himself overcame for us. He promises that if we ask him he’ll equip us to live a joyful and peaceful life despite our circumstances. And yes, there are no degrees no of sin with God in that they all lead to death (Romans 6:23). Sin is sin. My envy and lies, white or not, my prejudices and countless daily infractions from my childhood till now lead to my death just as theft or murder does. It’s hard to wrap my head around that….and I’m going be judged for all of it. But Jesus himself made atonement for my sin! He paid my penalty. God demands justice but Jesus himself settled my debt.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1