I remember when I was in my BMT recourse there was a guy whom a lot of people in my platoon was annoyed with for some reason, I can’t quite remember the justification. So they wanted to “punish” him somehow the details of which I shall spare.
I remember at that time I was discussing a lot about the Christian faith in my bunk mates and when they asked me to participate in this mob lynching, I instinctively declined. After all, I cannot preach about mercy and forgiveness and grace and yet join in in this public vengeance. So I sat alone in my bunk reading my book even as they went to do the deed.
I was rather young and theologically unsophisticated at that time, but even now after having went through a veritable mountain of theological writings, I still cannot make sense of this event. As someone who has went through neighbourhood schools all his life, I understand the value and even the necessity of localised “justice”. Some people really are annoying, and they need to be taught a lesson. In most cases, it is quite obvious why but I wasn’t exactly sure of the details of this particular case, after all, it is not like such street justice has any legal processes, etc. This was why I didn’t pretend to be sanctimonious and self-righteously superior in not participating by loudly denouncing their actions, etc. I saw the meaning and the point of such an act.
Perhaps a baser and much more selfish reason was simply that I did not want to be alienated from my bunkmates. After all, I could have tried to stop it, to prevent the lynching, and it was nothing but sheer cowardice and even hypocrisy on my part not to stop it. I am fully willing to accept this. I am willing to admit that maybe I was cowardly, hypocritical, who preached about mercy and forgiveness and did nothing to prevent a vengeance, sanctimoniously “washing his hands” off the incident and escaping from it all by standing aside.
Perhaps I should have been more consistent, more idealistic. But I must ask this question, is it actually possible? I am not really interested in whether in this case the lynching is justified, I am merely raising a much more general whether we can live in a world where there is no punishment and vengeance. Civil punishments are merely lynchings writ large in legal language. Suppose if the Church were to practice such “forgiveness” with ruthless consistency. Suppose we were to ask that every rapist, murderer, pedophile, etc, be forgiven and be set free or at most “rehabilitated”. Is such a scheme possible? Is such ruthless consistent practice of Christian forgiveness possible? Mind you, some mennonites and anabaptists do try to practice it. They have a special “forgiveness fund” where if anyone of their congregation has been harmed or injured by the world, they would refuse to press charges or sue for damages, but the Church will instead pay for the restoration of whatever injuries or harm or damage their congregation has sustained. Thus, this is a real practice of forgiveness, the refusal to exact vengeance, and the willing to bear the cost upon themselves.
Imagine such these mennonite/anabaptists communities writ large to encompass the whole nation. I ask you, is this possible? First, this would be outrageous and strange to an essentially secular world. To set free every rapists, murderer and criminal, to turn the other cheek in every instance, to truly forgive every crime and sin under the sun, this was not possible even in medieval Christendom. Which brings me to my next point.
I find the vision of the Reformed “transformationist” or “theocratic” vision to be inspiring, the idea that Christian principle should rule and run every area of life. But such a theocracy is extremely strict and demanding, it’s not the waffling wishy-washy no sacred-secular divide social action crap blabbered by the social justice Christians. It demands that you forgo your rights, it demands that you give up your claim to vengeance and justice and leave it in the hands of God alone. It demands that you forgive precisely by not exacting the last farthing out of your oppressor or enemy. I ask in all earnestness, are we willing to accept this?
Here I guess one can see a very early trace of my “Two Kingdoms” understanding of the Christian faith. I know that I cannot ask this of everyone, not even of the Christians in my bunk. The Kingdom of God cannot be ‘overrealised’. I believe that there is two realms, the Kingdom of the Law, and the Kingdom of the Gospel. The Christian Gospel does not prescribe the foundations of a new community in this world, but is a proclamation of a wholly other kingdom to come at the Resurrection Future. This world is essentially fallen. While sin continues to dwell in this world, vengeance, punishment and law are still necessary to preserve worldly life and order and to curb the full effects of sin, but they themselves are the product of sin, the Original Sin. The Christian Gospel does not do away with that but proclaims a transcendent future when every tear will be wiped, swords turned into plowshares, when by the Final Consummation and by the return of Christ that would be done away. But in the mean time, we can only wait, watch and pray for its coming.
I guess you could say that I am merely rationalising my cowardice. Perhaps. But again, before you accuse, I only ask that you confront the question I posed above yourself, and ask yourself if you can honestly say that you want to live in the “theocratic” world where the Christian Gospel fully rules this realm. I guess I could argue that the Gospel “transcends” the conflicts of this world. The Gospel can neither be for the criminals or the “righteous” citizens, the Gospel cannot take sides in the conflicts of this world, but proclaims a wholly other “alien righteousness”, a wholly other Kingdom and order, to come, which order shall crush the orders of this world, which order is based upon forgiveness and grace alone, which so utterly transcends the demands of the law, yet it does not abolish it but upholds it until the time is come when this world shall be dissolved in fire, and only faith in the Gospel shall remain. I guess this is how I would “rationalise” my actions, I cannot be for one or the other, I cannot participate in the lynching or stop it, I can only stand outside of the entire system, and point to a wholly other future hope. I do not claim to prescribe my actions for all, but only that this is a “special” vocation not given to all.
Oh well. Maybe I should post this on SAF Confessions.