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Who’s the More Wicked?

November 30th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

There have been a few intelligent responses to the events in Ferguson but on the whole it has been stupidity compounded by tragedy. When the news of the Grand Jury decision was announced it was met with anger on the part of many, some of whom responded with violence. What followed was the lamentable but predictable retreat of the various sides – black and white, liberal and conservative – behind fortress walls constructed from historical prejudice. There has been a lot of shouting and very little dialog.

What I have noticed most recently is the recitation of injustices that are supposed to turn the tables on those protesting the death of Michael Brown and the Grand Jury decision. Some of them show white kids killed by black men. Some of them show white police officers killed by black men. We are pressed to wonder: where is the outrage about those crimes? Why does “the media” not make a “federal case” out of these? Why does the President not send the Attorney General to investigate these?

Most educated people should be familiar with the fact that statistical evidence can be misleading. But what is even more misleading is anecdotal evidence; so much so that it is even accorded its own fallacy: the so-called “anecdotal fallacy.” A good basic definition of the anecdotal fallacy is the use of a personal experience or an isolated example instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence. People who use these examples as a substitute for evidence will defend their use by pointing out that these are not isolated examples; that for each example given there are a number not mentioned. And that is almost inarguably true. But we live in a country of 317 million people, in a world of 7.1 billion people. At any given moment one could stack up heaps of anecdotal evidence to demonstrate almost any human activity imaginable. An old journalistic aphorism informs that the way to manufacture a crime wave is to report all of the crimes.

But of course all of this misses the point. We would love for the world to be simple enough to settle with a tally. Our injustices – those we have endured – are just as bad as your injustices. Or your acts of injustice are worse than mine. But it is not that simple. It is actually simpler. All injustice is evil. The real fallacy here isn’t in the recitation of our injustices vs. your injustices, although it is little more than a distraction. The real fallacy is that there is such a thing as our injustice, or yours. There is only injustice. And injustice is evil.

If we can produce evidence of injustice toward and by all groups of people, which we can, then we must assume that all groups are guilty as much as that all groups are victims. That fact may seem to lead us nowhere but in fact it leads directly to the solution. Because if we’re all guilty, we’re all in need of mercy. We all need to be forgiven. Justice is a funny thing. We all want justice until we figure out how guilty we are. Then all we want is mercy.

It is another almost irony that it is only when we realize how guilty we are that we can become willing to forgive. Because I must recognize that whatever I wish upon others for their injustice against me is deserved by me as well. Either we must all forgive, or we are all damned.

One of the reasons it is so hard to forgive is that forgiveness is costly. If forgiveness costs nothing then it is worth nothing. If you are in debt to me, I must give up my claim to what you owe. If you owed me justice and I did not receive it, I have to give up my right to justice. And we all must sense at our core how difficult that is.

Here is a good place where we can use anecdotal evidence. This is really true. There was a group of people who went so far in debt to a creditor that the point was reached where it was literally impossible for them to pay the debt. The creditor had every right to recompense. He was in a position to condemn the debtors to the worst consequences. But out of mercy and mercy alone, and not by any characteristic of the debtors, the creditor paid the whole debt himself, and thus the debtors were forgiven. It was incredibly painful, but he did it none the less. And going beyond that, the creditor invited the debtors into his own household, to enjoy with him all of his riches.

This seems an unbelievable story, something that only happens in the movies. But we know the debtors: we are the debtors. The creditor is God. And the price that was paid was paid by Jesus Christ on the cross. When we think of the price we must pay to forgive, we must measure it against the price that was paid for our forgiveness.

Jesus tells us that to be identified as his followers we must love as he loves (John 13:34-35). The love of Jesus turns out not to be affection but self-sacrifice. And so if we are to overcome the racial divide those on all sides must sacrifice all of the justice that was not paid to them when it should have been. We must move past the quantification of evils past. We must no longer point our fingers and say, “your sins are worse than mine!” as if somehow that erased my guilt. We are all guilty. We are all in need of forgiveness. And we will never find justice until we all give up our claims to it.

We will find our peace in the gospel.

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