The Grace of Wrath

from thirdwatch files

from thirdwatch files

You know the drill. I start out talking about something that the tabloids are outraged about and then point out that hawkish elements in our government or history (or multinational corporations, the global arms industry, George Bush, Rupert Murdoch, David Cameron etc) are guilty of the same thing. We, or people we as a society are okay with, turn out to be bad guys as much as the popularly set up targets of social ire. That’s political honesty. But when it turns out that actual good guys did bad things, that makes it more complicated, less ideologically neat. That’s where our religion comes in.(Yes, I said ‘religion.’ Sue me. The ‘it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship with God’ thing is meaningless to everyone except other evangelicals and frankly it’s getting old.)

The good guys possibly doing bad things in last week’s news were Lithuanian Jews who are being investigated for possible war-crimes. That’s right: the heroes, the guys fighting the Nazis. There was a time when that was a pretty iron-clad justification: “Junior, I don’t want you playing that violent video game—it celebrates killing people.” “It’s okay mom, I’m killing Nazis!” “Oh, why didn’t you say? Shoot them in the knees!”

In Lithuania, that time appears to be over. Holocaust survivors who fought the Nazis (as 200,000 Lithuanian Jews were murdered) are being investigated for allegedly killing a village of 38 people in a ‘punitive action’. The villagers were allegedly killed for refusing to give the Jewish Red Army fighters their food. There has, unsurprisingly, been an uproar.

Politically, assuming the claims turn out to be true, I have to say that I am stumped: who do you side with? The people investigating on behalf of victims of a massacre (but who are chasing down holocaust survivors, not perpetrators)? Or WWII Jews who may have slaughtered people in a way that would carry no ambiguity for us had it been perpetrated in, say, Rwanda, but who were fighting one of the most evil forces ever to have stalked the planet?

Let’s put aside the competing cries of: ‘anti-semitism!’ and: ‘the holocaust cannot justify everything!” for a moment. Let’s also recognise that even if this case is successfully prosecuted it in no way creates a symmetry of wrong-doing in WWII (one side was overwhelmingly wrong). But let’s ask ourselves a question more pertinent to our lives than events of 60 years ago: does being on the right side justify doing the wrong thing in its cause? Or, put another way: should our heroes be beyond scrutiny, beyond reproach and forever protected from the consequences of their actions, no matter how terrible? Should all those belonging to a class of victims be similarly canonised?

It’s easy, as news showed last week, to demand punitive justice for the likes of Sudan’s leaders who have allowed or possibly orchestrated terror and civilian killings. It’s less easy to see wrong in our own allies. It’s virtually impossible to see it in those we believe are doing good. Be they fallen heroes of our own armed forces who could conceivably be investigated for wilfully and knowingly killing or torturing civilians;or resistance fighters, standing against an oppressive force (insert your favourite here: Paletsinians in Israel, monks in Burma, Jews in Lithuania).

For Christians, good and evil do not depend on whose side you’re on. If we are to be the heart of Jesus, the Godly conscience of our society, we must be willing to be honest in our thinking, showing no favouritism. But we also need to remember that justice does not always end in punishment, that forgiveness, not wrath, is the cornerstone of our faith.

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