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The Rev. Dr. Peter Samuelson The Rev. Dr. Peter L. Samuelson

The Rev. Dr. Peter Samuelson is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Minneapolis, MN


Was Justice Served?

May 04, 2011

I am not feeling it - justice that is.  In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death I am feeling a lot of things.  Relief that he is not longer able to mastermind terror.  Sadness at the reminder of all the victims of his mad schemes. Satisfaction of a certain kind that one who took the lives of so many has had his life taken from him.  Ambivalence at the celebration of the death of another human being - even as I am glad he is dead.  Pride in the proper exercise of our government's role to restrain evil.  Hope that bin Laden's death will curb terror and help bring an end to America's involvement in Afghanistan.  Fear that those who would avenge bin Laden's death would unleash new terror on the world.  But justice?  I am not feeling it. 

I have spent the last few days listening closely to the reactions of the families and loved ones of the victims of 9/11 to bin Laden's death.  If there is a sense that justice has been served, it is only partial.  Robert Klitzman, who lost his sister on 9/11, gives his families reaction to the news on the opinion page of the NY Times.  He writes:

"How did we feel?  Decidedly mixed. "It's anti-climactic," one of my two surviving sisters said."

I have yet to hear someone say: this is it.  This is what I have been waiting for.  This completely avenges my loved one's death.  Most speak of ambivalence.  Most are reminded, once again, of their pain and loss.  If there is a sense of justice served - it is only in a small measure.

How can one death avenge the over 3,000 deaths of innocents, and those on 9/11 alone?  If justice can be measured as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, is taking bin Landen's eyes a just payment for the thousands of eyes he dimmed, his teeth satisfaction for the tens of thousands of teeth he destroyed?  It is not enough.  Moreover, the events of 9/11 involved a whole network of people, many of whom still roam free.  Would justice be served if we found them all?  Would we be satisfied?

As I listen closely to the victims, I sense that there is no justice - only fresh grief.  There is no justice - only renewed pain. There is no justice - only a broken world.  No number of deaths will bring back the loved one lost.  No particular death will take away the pain, even if it is the mastermind of the terror scheme that killed the one loved.  More killing will not satisfy the rage at the unfairness of it all.

Lookng at our feeble attempts to bring about justice throughout all of human history, I see only one act of pure justice, one instance of pure vindication.  It came on Easter morning, when God raised Jesus from the dead.  Justice was served when Jesus, the ultimate innocent victim, was given back what was unjustly taken from him:  his life.

That feels like justice - if every innocent victim of bin Laden's evil acts could have their life restored.  If every family rent asunder by grief could embrace the living body of the one they lost.  If everyone broken in body, mind or spirit by the terror bin Laden wrought could be made whole again.

It happened only once.  We did not bring justice, God did.  But the death and resurrection of Jesus gives me hope that one day God will bring justice to the whole creation and restore us all to life. Until then, we and the whole creation "groan inwardly" (Romans 8:23) as we wait for justice. Until then, we see justice's dim reflection and hope one day to see it face to face.

 


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