This morning, Scotland released the terminally ill man who was convicted and serving a life sentence for the death of 270 innocent people in the 1988 bombing of a Pan-American flight that crashed in Lockerbie. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi is a free man and he will return to his native Libya where he is expected to die in less than three months.
Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, the man responsible for his release noted that al-Megrahi had not shown compassion to his victims but that he was motivated by Scottish values to show mercy.
My first reaction was one of outrage. Many of the passengers on that plane were American college students flying home to New York for Christmas. This man obviously deserves to die, not comfortably, treated like a hero by his fellow countrymen, but in a cold, hard, hospital prison. This man doesn’t deserve our compassion.
Theories are already abound regarding the “real” reasons why al-Megrahi was released, most involving the interests of British Petroleum in Libya and Moammar Gadhafi’s hard lobby for his release. Many see this as nothing more than a wheel greasing gesture. MacAskill explains it a bit differently though. He says, “Some hurts can never heal, some scars can never fade. Those who have been bereaved cannot be expected to forget, let alone forgive... However, Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power."
It was that last sentence that turned me. Or, at least, made me step back and face my hypocrisy for a moment. I’m still not sure I’m turned. I’m not convinced the right thing is being done, but I also don’t know that mercy, even on the unrepentant can be so easily condemned, at least not by a Christian man like myself.
It’s so easy to hate someone who, in the name of another god, mercilessly killed so many innocents. It’s easy to pass my judgment on him. It’s easy to want him dead or for him to suffer until he dies. It’s easy to hate the man who released him. It’s easy to feel anger and resentment, knowing that this murderer will go home to a country that will treat him like a king for his last few months of life. Those emotions, anger, hatred, resentment, they are all easy and quick and they feel so right.
They are also contrary to every single Christian teaching. It is the Old Testament that teaches and eye for an eye. The New Testament teaches us to turn the other cheek, to judge not lest we be judged. It teaches us to have mercy, to show compassion. “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall be shown mercy.”
How does one who professes to be a Christian stand opposed to an act of mercy? This man will die in three months or less. Before that death, he has experienced the mercy that he did not have for others. Whether he appreciates it or not, he has experienced that which his life has obviously been devoid of—mercy, compassion, love, the very pillars of the Christian Faith. How can that be wrong?
Of course, it’s naïve to think for a moment that mercy, compassion and love are the real reasons for this release. With BP having such a large interest in Libyan oil and Gadhafi lobbying so hard for his release, it’s very hard to see this as anything other than an act of appeasement for financial gain. But if you put that obvious factor aside, can we truly be outraged over mercy and if we are, what does that say about us?
I’ll admit. I struggle against my faith here. The very idea of this murderer receiving a heroes greeting by his people, being able to die in peace and comfort in his home land and getting to do so without ever having shown remorse for his actions simply boils my blood. I want him to suffer. I want him to hurt. When he breaths his last and faces his Creator, I want him to do so alone and afraid. What does that say about me?
There is another Beatitude, this one about justice and I’d be lying if I said that in this case, I felt justice was being served. That makes me wonder if I understand the concept of justice as it was meant though. I think about what I believe and how my Lord suffered for me, how He endured pain and hatred, anger, resentment and even death when, had He chosen to, His justice could have been swift and powerful and unyielding. He chose mercy instead.It makes me feel like a hypocrite. Politics and reasons beneath the surface aside, how can mercy ever be wrong? How can a believer ever question mercy? It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be. Let God. Let go.