An Eye for an Eye

March 9, 2009

In a quite literal manifestation of the laws given to the Hebrews in Exodus 21, an Iranian woman who was blinded and disfigured after a man threw acid in her face has welcomed the decision by a Tehran court to do the same to him. Ameneh Bahrami, 30, rejected a marriage request from the man – known only as Majid – who responded by waiting for her outside of her workplace to throw acid on her. Ms Bahrami (seen above) who is currently in Barcelona receiving medical treatment waived her right to $25,000 so that the man would be blinded in both eyes, rather than just one as was originally intended.

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Exodus 21v23-25

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

– Jesus
Matthew 5 v 38-39

This is perceived to be one of the Bible’s great contradictions. Some reading around however sheds some light. In the time the law was given, the concept of “an eye for an eye” was not a requirement, but a limit. The purpose of the statement was not that if someone pokes out your eye, deliberately or not, then you HAVE TO poke out his eye in return. The statement’s purpose was to say that if somebody deliberately pokes out your eye, then you have the right to avenge your mistreatment, but ONLY UP TO what they’ve done to you. You could merely punch them in the nose if that satisfies justice for you, or you could go all the way up to the point of poking out his eye in return, but no more. You can’t chop of his head if he poked out your eye. In a world where blood feuds were common, meaning that one family would go to war with another family because of a series of escalating insults and violent actions. The concept of “an eye for an eye” stopped the escalation of violence. The concept was simply “if you must retaliate, then you can only go this far and no further.” Another commentator wrote that if someone killed your sheep, it was the ‘macho’ thing to go to his and kill five of his cows. Thus starting a tit-for-tat.

In Northern Ireland we know all about tit-for-tat murders.

Perhaps even now some loyalists are plotting revenge for the two British soldiers murdered in Antrim Saturday night. But where does that get us? Is that not what the dissidents want? A civil war to encourage Britain to wash its hands of us?

Justice must be sought, in that these murderers should be brought to trial and sentenced accordingly. But can we go further? Can we offer forgiveness? Mercy? Even Grace? Jesus advocates justice. But he also calls us to go further. When one considers that he calls us to offer forgiveness instead of seeking revenge, to love instead of hating and to forgo our rights, is that really a religion to use as a crutch?

What would you do if you were Ameneh Bahrami?

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The Truth of Reconciliation

January 31, 2009

In the aftermath of the Eames-Bradley report* and the controversial £12,000 ‘recognition payment’ Denis Murray talks to Andrew Neil on This Week. Watch the video here

There are some interesting points raised. Around 2 minutes in Denis Murray states,

Some clergymen in Northern Ireland . . . say that I can offer you forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you express regret

Is forgiveness conditional? Do we offer it on the grounds that someone is sorry? That’s probably our default way of doing things. Who forgives his wife for cheating on him if she doesn’t express regret, and sorrow for the pain caused? Yet Jesus, radical as ever, wants us to forgive unconditionally. He is quoted as saying;

 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses

There is no clause. No conditions. No small print. If you hold a grudge, if someone has wronged you, forgive them. There is no hierarchy of sin mentioned, no one sin to great to offer forgiveness for. We should not wait for someone to express regret before we offer them forgiveness. Yet it is true, that we can offer it and they may not accept it. They may feel small because we have offered something they cannot fathom and refuse out of disbelief or mistrust. They may simply have no remorse whatsoever. But we are called to forgive.

And Jesus knows a thing or two about forgiveness. He offered the ultimate forgiveness of sin. He offers forgiveness for all our sins, through his death and resurrection. And he can offer it, but it won’t mean anything in our lives unless we recognise our need for it, continually, acknowledging that we need to be forgiven for our disobedience against our perfect creator.

Another thing to note is Michael Portillo, 5 minutes in. He says this:
 

The thing that would most interest me for the future … will be whether
education is now going to be inter-communal, whether Catholics and Protestants are going to go to the same schools … If that’s not happening, then that’s a very serious problem

This is a statement I agree with wholeheartedly. Would we not rightly say America was stuck with its past if black children and white children went to different schools? For Northern Ireland to rid itself completely of sectarianism, the education system must be overhauled. I’m not calling for greater promotion of integrated education, I’m calling for an abolishment of segregated education.

Segregated education allows for one version of history to be taught to pupils of one background. It means our children will grow up with the mindsets of their parents and their grandparents. It means another conflict will never be far away from the surface, as long as we keep the ‘other side’ anonymous.

How can you hate Catholics if you’re friends with one? How can you loathe Protestants if you play football every lunchtime with them? But if you wait until you’re 16,18 and in a working environment, or third level education before you interact with people of the ‘other side’, then by that time you may well have a deep rooted sectarian mindset. It is imperative that with EU money being directed to Eastern Europe thus reducing cross community schools projects funding, that we address our Education problem immediately, and pave the way for the next generation.

*You can read the 192 page Eames-Bradley report here