And so Scotland has found itself in the eye of a political storm of international proportions this week! President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and now Robert Mueller, the head of the FBI, have united in their condemnation of the decision made by the Scottish Government to release Mr Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the so-called ‘Lockerbie Bomber’ on compassionate grounds. Mr Mueller has been particularly scathing and has referred to the decision as ‘a mockery of justice’. Justice was also a word featured heavily in the statement by the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, in explaining his decision, “Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available”.
On one hand we have the justifiable and understandable outrage of the relatives of those who died who wish to see the law exact its full penalty and on the other hand the eloquently expressed dilemma of Mr MacAskill, “The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live. Mr Al Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them. But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days”.
Perhaps the most telling words in Mr MacAskill’s statement are these, “Mr Al Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.” This is an expression of the ultimately unsatisfactory nature of human justice. Assuming that Mr Al Megrahi is indeed guilty of the crimes for which he has been convicted, had he remained in jail for the remainder of his natural life, would that have delivered ‘justice’ to the relatives of those who died?
This tension between atoning for a crime and the application of the principle of mercy is one that is at the heart of the Christian gospel. In the Old Testament, a man called Job said, “how can a man be righteous before God?” (Job 9 v1). Job understood that a holy God cannot simply overlook wrongdoing; He cannot ignore it or forget about it; It forms a barrier between Himself and the wrongdoer. What is more, like Mr Al Megrahi, there is nothing that the wrongdoer could do that would truly atone for the wrong done. It is impossible for me to make myself ‘right’ before God. Unlike the Scottish justice system, God is not able to simply waive the demands of His righteousness on grounds of compassion. They must be met, in full!
Yet the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is a God of compassion, a God of love. How this circle can be squared is the work of divine grace. How can God be both ‘just’ and a ‘justifier’ – that is, how can he remain consistent to His holy nature while at the same time granting me the holiness that enables me to have a relationship with Him?
The Apostle Paul explains it for us, “But now the righteousness of God … is revealed, … even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, … to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”, Romans 3 vs21-26.
Mr MacAskill did not offer as part of his statement to personally undertake the remainder of Mr Al Megrahi’s prison term, but that is what Christ has done – and more than that. He has personally taken on Himself not only the punishment for my sin but the very guilt for my sin. God’s righteousness is satisfied and through faith in this Saviour I can be made ‘right’ with God. This is true justice and true compassion!
This principle is what differentiates true Biblical Christianity from every other belief system and philosophy invented by mankind. Look at what you are depending on for eternity and ask yourself this simple question – “has my sin been dealt with?”