This week’s article for The Border Watch is a response to the executions of Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran and six others; along with the public reactions to the circumstances of their deaths.
The paper titled this one ‘Forgiveness Needed To Break Cycles Of Retribution’.
It is reported that eight voices, united in song in the middle of the night, fell silent as shots of gunfire burst forth. The song they were singing was ‘Bless The Lord, O My Soul.’ They had already sung ‘Amazing Grace’.
The executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran conjure a huge range of responses at individual and national levels. Even if you feel limited pity for them personally, surely sympathy flows for their families and loved ones as they grieve their loss. Six others died alongside them. The relationship between Australia and Indonesia will be marked by what has happened.
In times such as these deep convictions are expressed. Additionally, the manner in which those convictions are expressed demonstrates just how deeply we truly hold those values.
It is one thing to be committed to values of peace, justice, democracy and responsibility in civil expression. It is a test of those values if, when they are rejected by others, we resort to violent, forceful, overbearing and abusive means in our response. Do we really trust our values if we abandon them when we’re injured or threatened?
Like the champions of free speech who shout opposing points of view down, or proponents of tolerance who seek to marginalise those who differ from their point of view, what does it say about us if the very expression of our position looks more like the values we reject than the ones we defend?
There are cultures where shame is the tool and fear is the motivation. If injustice is done, an expression of anger or disgust is expressed. To receive this anger or disgust brings a loss of status. It also invites a reciprocation of anger and disgust, which can result in an escalating cycle of retribution.
It was in a culture like that that Jesus was executed. When he said ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’, he was not simply expending one of his final breaths on a sentimental expression. He was showing a different way to the cycle of abuse and retribution.
It was an example that his followers embraced and one that eventually became a cultural norm after countless numbers of his disciples died espousing forgiveness for those who persecuted them. They still do.
But there’s more to it than that. Chan and Sukumaran sang ‘Amazing Grace’, a song that speaks of undeserved redemption. A song that expresses that their hope beyond this life was not futile because of their wrongdoing, or based on any amount of good works or rehabilitation they had experienced in the meantime. The song cut short by gunfire ‘Bless The Lord, O My Soul’ expresses an expectation of praising God for ‘10,000 years and then forevermore’. They had asked for one form of mercy in this life and not received it. For Andrew Chan, and for some of the others, hope beyond this life was based on endless mercy extended by God through a relationship with Jesus.
In whatever way we strive for justice and peace, however we respond to hurt and wrong, there is an example that refuses to perpetuate a cycle of retribution, abuse and hate. It is the path we must follow as individuals and as a nation if we truly want others to join us.