Cheap Justice

Yesterday it was reported that convicted kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro committed suicide in his cell, and I’m not sure how to respond.

Suicide normally evokes pity. He was, however, a convicted kidnapper and rapist. If there are more heinous crimes, it is hard to think of them. So, he took his life. He enacted a justice that saved the justice system the trouble. No one sheds a tear. We would not go so far as to say we are glad for this state, but we are at the most ambivalent.

But even if our souls are too callous to shed a tear for this man, our consciousness should be tweaked at the thought of someone taking justice into his own hands. Justice ultimately belongs to God, and it is carried out through human courts. Our justice systems are necessarily flawed for the reason that we are flawed as humans.  Ultimate justice rests with God who promises to bring perfect justice (ultimately) into all situations. God’s justice is a reflection of His perfection.  Thus, His justice always will be carried out perfectly.  And this is where the warm hand of the Gospel intervenes, because His grace is also perfect.  And, seeing our desperate need, grace condescends to us and redirects the wrath that was intended for us and places it on Christ. Guilt is transferred. This is what happens when perfect grace meets perfect justice. Both remain perfect, and we are cleared of the sentence we deserved.

The temptation is to swim in this abundant grace in a presumptuous way, in what Bonheoffer called a “cheap grace”. Cheap grace is leveraging our forgiven position as a license to sin. We conclude that since we have the grace of Christ we have the freedom to sin without restraint. It is taking grace in our own hands. But grace is God’s to give not mine to abuse.

If presuming on God’s grace cheapens grace, then presuming on His justice cheapens justice. Cheap grace presumes on God’s grace, cheap justice suggest that I can take God’s future justice into my own hands now. I can refuse to forgive others, I can withhold good from those who deserve it: I can refuse to let God take vengeance.  I can commit suicide.  One is taking grace in my own hands, the other taking justice.  Cheap grace is the suicide of the soul.  Cheap justice is the suicide of the body.  And both are presumptuous.

Perhaps the most Gospel aware response to an inmate suicide is to be cautioned.  If I take justice in my own hands I have circumnavigated the only One who can bring true justice.  Ultimate justice and ultimate grace are His alone to give.  After all I want God to be gracious to me, so I extend pity to others.

So we weep for him, for his family, and those broken by his crimes. And we don’t rejoice in his rush to judgment. For a rush to judgment is a rush to be judged.

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