Thursday, April 4, 2013

Justice and mercy shall meet

Want to know what justice without mercy might look like?  Here's an example:
A Saudi court has ruled that a man who paralysed his best friend should now himself be crippled in an 'eye-for-an-eye' punishment.

Ali Al-Khawahir has been in prison since stabbing his friend in the backbone 10 years ago, when he was only 14 years old.

According to the Saudi Gazette, a court has ruled that the accused should now be "fully paralysed" unless he pays the compensation demanded by the victim.
Originally the victim asked for two million Saudi Riyals (£350,000) however this sum has since been reduced to one million Saudi Riyals (£176,000), according to Mail Online. 

It is not clear how the punishment would be carried out. However it has been speculated that the victim's spinal cord would be severed.

Al-Khawahir's 60-year-old mother, who does not have sufficient funds to pay the compensation, has begged people to contribute to the fund.

"Ten years have passed with hundreds of sleepless nights. My hair has become grey at a young age because of my son's problem. I have been frightened to death whenever I think about my son's fate and that he will have to be paralysed," she said according to a report in Saudi Gazette.
Now, nobody I know thinks that a boy of 14 who stabs his best friend in the back should be given a slap on the wrist and sent home.  He did something seriously wrong, and the punishment has to be serious as well.

Ten years in prison might or might not be just (though there's no word in this article on how much longer he will remain in jail).  But severing his spinal cord?  Most of us would not call that justice; we would call it cruel and unusual punishment.

But there was a time in history when such "eye-for-an-eye" punishment was the standard of justice.  It's even reflected in the Bible, in the book of Leviticus, when these kinds of punishments, which seem horrible to us today, were spelled out as being what was required in a variety of circumstances.

What changed?  Were those things just then, but unjust now?  Can justice change?  Or is it our understanding of justice and our appreciation for the necessity of mercy to season justice that has changed?

I don't think any of us would want to be in a place where justice meant deliberately severing the spinal cord of a man who is in prison.  And I think that says something about how Christianity changed our concept of what justice means, and what role mercy properly plays in our dispensing of it.

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