The travesty to which I’m referring is not whether or not justice was served, which it was in this case. The travesty is whether justice is the appropriate answer in all circumstances. This is a question with far-reaching implications in life and in Christian thought (as if the two were ever separate).
Let me bring you up to speed: about a year ago, a fourteen-year old middle-schooler named Warren Williams, who lived an outwardly normal life by all accounts, was at home watching TV with his father. At some point he excused himself from the room, went upstairs and retrieved a handgun, then came back downstairs and shot his father three times.
As the story has unfolded over the past year, we’ve learned that when Warren was seven, his 12-year old brother committed suicide. We’ve learned that Warren wrestled with severe depression as a result. We’ve learned that he immediately called 911 and told the operator that he shot his Dad because he was bored with his life, then he placed the gun on the kitchen table and calmly went out on the front steps to await the police.
This is not sane behavior, so naturally everyone has been expecting a plea of insanity given the circumstances; but yesterday, as a result of a plea deal, Warren Williams pleaded guilty to second degree murder. This is Florida, so he was tried as an adult, and the mandatory sentence for such a crime is 20.5 years in state prison. For all intents and purposes, this boy’s life is over before it ever really got going.
Such scenes unfold in our society more often than we’d care to admit, part of the broken world in which we live: the frustration under which Paul tells us the very creation is “groaning.” So why, you may ask, am I taking this instance of brokenness so personally?
Well, as ironic as it might sound, thanks to the modern information age, it’s now possible for anyone and everyone to comment about anything published by anyone, the story of Warren’s crime and punishment being no exception. All the commentary actually gives a casual observer the opportunity to get a feel for the mindset, or “pulse” of our society.
One of the most common/loudest sentiments that’s been expressed with regard to this story goes something like, “at least justice was served and now his father can rest in peace.” As if.
That’s what sticks in my graw. This is not a matter of justice. We’re talking here about a father and his son. This is a matter of love. And as the father of a child whom I adore, I know that I could never rest in peace if my son were sent to prison, even if it were for hurting or killing me. I love him that much. I love him no matter what he does. My forgiveness is implicit even when he is in the act of doing something wrong. He need never fear that any act could ever separate him from my love. Period.
That’s what a father’s love is like. And this is an important point for Christians: if we are truly the adopted children of God (as we’re told throughout the NT), then what naturally follows is that this must be what God’s love for us is like.
God loves me no matter what I do or don’t do. He loves me even though he knows that I will fail him again and again (and again). He loves me, yes, even when I do things that would harm him or mar his name.
I need never fear that any act could ever separate me from His love. Period.