March 12, 2017
For those who fled the urbanized southern Northeast hoping to find peace and quiet in southern Vermont a piece of bad news: you came too late! In the last few weeks I have had more to do with people who are directly or indirectly involved – both as victims and perpetrators and/or both --in major violation of the criminal code than in the last forty years. Without going into any details, it occurs to me that this might be a good time to get some things said before I have to raise my voice to be heard.
There are horrible sins that are not punishable by the Law of the Land. This is true because ‘individual rights’ have become the new idol of the culture. There are norms of moral right and social good order and personal responsibility by which humans have managed their societal lives from time beyond recall. Obviously these norms were adopted because someone long ago decided to behave in a way that was deemed dangerous. Just as obviously the ‘bad actor’ was distressed and hurt by the enactment of those norms. In an age of universal entitlement to whatever one wants, it is deemed unjust that the doers of these acts should still be made to feel uncomfortable!
There are also pretty ordinary – even if not praiseworthy -- human actions that are ‘against the law’. People do and say the darnedest things in unguarded moments. Those words and actions may betray ignorance, bigotry, fear, poor judgment or a faulty ‘sense of humor’. For most of these, education is a better remedy than punishment; but that has not kept a new kind of ‘morality cops’ from prosecuting and persecuting ‘offenders’.
Two differences distinguish the new norms from the old:
~ The old were worked out in discussion and conversation and were rarely punishable at law.
~ The new are worked out in courts and the halls of government and bring actual harm to those who violate them.
As I think about the situations and people who have come to my attention lately, I find myself scratching my head about both the old norms and the new and wondering what God might think.
I come to one certainty in my thoughts about God. In the old days or the new, to the sinner and the saint alike, he would – does – hold out the medicine of forgiveness as the only way to ‘make things right’. The shifting of norms based on cultural changes makes criminals out of all of us. A future swing of the pendulum will redress this, but it will be too late. Only forgiveness, the promise that no mistake is fatal and no fatality is unpardonable can keep us from being a society in which the prisoners of one generation become the jailers of the next. But forgiveness is a realistic option only is it is sought before being offered and offered before being sought. It must become the new ‘law of the land’.
Really and truly and forgivably (I hope) yours,