Rough justice or none at all!
Here’s Harriet, she’s a single mother and a cocaine addict and she abuses her children severely and often. Here’s Henry, he’s ill and mentally challenged. He carries an iron bar and has taken to beating people with it.
What are we to do with them? We may not be sure but we are sure that we should do something to protect the defenceless and innocent and it doesn’t matter that Henry and Harriet are not in (complete) control of their actions. Harriet’s horrific background and Henry’s mental disability matter—of course—but these things have to be put aside until we deal with the very real threat these two people are to others.
“The standards of the law are standards of general application. The law takes no account of the infinite varieties of temperament, intellect, and education, which make the internal character of a given act so different in different men. It does not attempt to see men as God sees them, for more than one sufficient reason. In the first place, the impossibility of nicely measuring a man’s powers and limitations is far clearer than that of ascertaining his knowledge of law…When men live in society, a certain average of conduct, a sacrifice of individual peculiarities going beyond a certain point, is necessary to the general welfare. If, for instance, a man is born hasty and awkward, is always having accidents and hurting himself or his neighbors, no doubt his congenital defects will be allowed for in the courts of Heaven, but his slips are no less troublesome to his neighbors than if they sprang from guilty neglect. His neighbors accordingly require him, at his proper peril, to come up to their standard, and the courts which they establish decline to take his personal equation into account.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said that.
There must come a point when we render judgment because however disabled a transgressor is we simply can’t allow him to hurt his neighbor at will. At one level our response against sin (or crime) must ignore what motivates or what shaped the sinner/criminal. We have to develop, as Walter Moberly would put it, “a certain myopia” and get on with dealing with the case. He who knows all and knows how to judge all does not hold us responsible because we are not him and he expects us to judge within our limitations.
Explain it how we will, or for as long as we might, there are in fact those who are predators that hunt the defenseless. What the predator might have been or what he might be under other circumstances who can say? The man/woman before us is the one we have to deal with and not the one who might have been or might later be. When we deal severely (as we sometimes must) with transgressors we recognize our limits but we can do no other than to think that dispensing a rough sort of justice is better than dispensing no justice at all. And if we're sensitive to the fact that we too are under the Holy Father who judges all persons and takes into account all the factors that conspire to make a life then we’ll bear Matthew 7:1-5 in mind.
Aren’t we pleased that Christ is a great Savior?! The more complex and convoluted the entire human situation becomes to our eyes the more wondrous he has to be in order to save any of us. “For such a high priest is suited to our needs,” the Hebrew writer said. Pascal had good reason to say, “It is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness as it is to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it.”
But in saying Jesus Christ has to be great to save “any” of us I'm not suggesting we’re all equally bogged down in sins (plural) for manifestly we’re not. Or that we were all equally bogged down in sins (plural) because I know my record is in every way more littered with failures and positive trespasses than many I know. But whatever our individual differences are they came to us because we are part of a single human family. Neither sin nor righteousness began with me—they continue with me and whatever differences there are in the number of our sins or the grossness of our particular sins we’ve all been involved in the same uprising against God at some point and bear the sign of rebel on our forehead.
But I suspect if we had a richer biblical anthropology and a richer sense of human solidarity and if we were more enlightened about our limits as judges we could live more contentedly with “rough justice” and think we were being treated as well as is possible. Maybe resentment would be less of a hazard and we’d “do our time” with a freer heart.
I'm certain that if our human judges do their needed duty without arrogance and with some residue of good will toward us that we'd "take what's coming to us" in a better spirit. Then, again, even our judges have been shaped by that universal uprising against the Holy Father. Knowing what it was going to lead to in 70 AD, from the cross Jesus looked at his nation and said to his Holy Father, "They don't know what they're doing." Luke 23:14.
Only a God can judge well—only a God like Jesus Christ can judge well. Until the day he does that and rights all wrongs [Acts 17:31] we'll have to bear with rough justice or none at all.