Have you ever seen someone do something terrible and get away without any sort of consequences? Even worse is when they may get rewarded or celebrated and we somehow reap a negative consequence, while they remain unscathed. Sorry if I’m bringing up a foul memory to mind. It’s ok to take a second to let it flare up, stew, and simmer down if you need. I’m going to attempt to help us take that foul stew off the stove and wash it down the drain, so we’re free to enjoy life more with the air cleared.
I recalled this stench of resentment mixed with justice recently as I’ve been re-reading a story. It’s a story in the Book of Mosiah about this guy named Amulon and his cronies, as I’ve come to call them. They were unjust men, who stole from the humble, murdered the innocent, and were beyond any crudeness or lewdness we’ve been seeing on the news lately. Not only that, they were supposed to be the government and religious leaders.
Thankfully, the people finally wised up and had an uprising, but they somehow managed to escape before the people could sentence any sort of just punishment. Fast-forward, and we get to a point where a group of the most humble and kind of the townsfolk are trying to re-settle themselves. Guess who barges in to desecrate the sweet-prairie life they’ve established? Amulon and his cronies not only butt in, but the ruler of the larger kingdom that the townsfolk settled in dubs Amulon king over their little settlement. To suggest that Amulon merely bullied these townsfolk would be an understatement.
Thankfully, for their well-being and sanity, these weren’t your typical townsfolk. They were praying folk. They were inspired to be patient, and obeyed. Then in due time, the Lord miraculously delivered them.
In some ways, despite the miraculous delivery, I’d find this story to be anti-climactic. No just-consequences are ever mentioned for Amulon. He seems to go by with a free pass. But as I was reading this story again, I stopped to observe myself. I realized that in the midst of my justice-nature, there was a vein of loathing, resentment, and unforgiveness. The funny thing is, I’ve been the one shouldering this, while those praying townsfolk who actually went through it merely moved on. The way they let the past drop off and instead focus on enjoying life reminded me of this stanza in one of my favorite poems, “A Psalm of Life”:
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
The example of these townsfolk humbled me to consider that maybe there’s a higher law to live than merely justice alone. Grace.
To me, grace is a state where justice and compassion are held equally. Where there’s a higher hope than just punishment, but a hope that a person can be empowered to healing and freedom from their destructive state. That a past is not necessarily a future. That instead, a person can change and rise to his or her highest self. And we can hope to celebrate their rising rather than revel in their final defeat. Grace isn’t the expectation of witnessing this change occur, but holding the hope and openness that someday they will be freed from the darkness they’re living in, to be a person of light. And in the meantime, our joy isn’t capped by justice alone. We can let the dead Past bury its dead and act in the living Present. We’re free to move on and live.