What is justice? Are there crimes that are unforgivable? Can a person ever truly put the past behind them? What is our responsibility to others in our communities? These are tough questions, with no easy answers. This news article and commentary in the Grand Rapids Press got me thinking about this questions, again.
I’m no social scientist. I know nothing about criminal justice. I suspect most of you reading this could say the same thing. But we must educate ourselves because we need to, as communities of faith and as secular society, think about what constitutes justice, forgiveness, punishment, and rehabilitation.
Homelessness is a tough and complex problem. The people who work in shelters and missions struggle mightily to help the homeless. When you hear some of the stories of the homeless the magnitude of their problems and the obstacles they have to overcome are overwhelming.
I have heard it reported that the US has for a western nation a large percentage of our population in prison. What are we trying to accomplish with our prison system? Punishment? Rehabilitation? Both? Something else? Most of us don’t spend much time wondering about the lives of prisoners. We don’t consider how they might survive, let alone thrive after their release.
As a nation we are so appalled and upset by crimes of a sexual nature that we can barely think straight. Our visceral reaction is to lock everyone up and throw away the key. Most of us simply don’t think about it at all.
I’m a parent, and honestly, I would not be happy if a registered sex offender moved into my neighborhood. I wouldn’t be happy to have any sort of felon on the street. But I hope I wouldn’t allow others to run them out of the neighborhood. Everyone has to live somewhere and everyone deserves decent housing. I hope I could be a compassionate neighbor.
I don’t have enough knowledge about these issues to offer a solution. I suspect many of us lack that knowledge. I am afraid as a society we don’t have enough interest and desire to create good programs and services. Sadly, given some of the comments to the GR Press articles, we are not even in agreement that society should help sex offenders after their release from prison.
I’m afraid the topic is so distasteful and the problems so difficult and complex that we will gladly focus on the Super Bowl and all its attendant goofiness and any other superficial pastime to avoid wrestling with this.
Christians, I think, should have a particularly difficult time with this issue. It should bother us. It should nag at us. We ought to feel some responsibility every time we see a homeless person. Have we done, as a society, as a church, all that we should? We simply can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. We don’t get to look the other way. Jesus makes no bones about our responsibility to love, to forgive, and to help each other. I think Jesus meant everyone, no exceptions. That’s hard. It’s next to impossible. Yet, that is what we are called to do. We are supposed to give more than lip service to the idea of redemption.
I don’t have any answers. But what I can do, is support those who are working toward solutions. I need to listen and ask questions and learn.
I am frustrated and sad and angry. Mr. Pauli’s death forces me to think about issues I would rather avoid facing. Homelessness and all that causes it and all that results from it. Crime, punishment, mental illness, addictions, lack of education, lack of work that pays a living wage, broken relationships.
But God forgive us, no one should freeze to death, alone and abandoned in the middle of a city.