The art of getting away with it

Wed, 08/03/2017 - 11:08 -- James Oakley

Robin Lustig, former journalist at the BBC, most recently as presenter of The World Tonight, has written a superb blog post entitled Will the law stretch from Srebrenica to Saydnaya?. Go read it - it's not long.

He makes a simple point. War crimes from the Balkans conflict are currently catching up with their perpetrators, as has happened with World War II and other conflicts.

At the same time, war crimes are being perpetrated in Syria, on a horrendous scale if Amnesty International is to be believed. Lustig muses: are those carrying out such atrocities aware that they may one day face justice?

So here's what I'm getting at. One day -- perhaps in twenty years' time, or perhaps much sooner than that -- some of the people responsible for the obscenities taking place at Saydnaya will stand trial. Just as senior Nazis did at Nuremberg, and senior Khmer Rouge officials did in Cambodia.

Neither President Assad, nor anyone in his circle, can lie in their beds at night confident that they will never face justice. Their current protectors in Moscow and Tehran have their own interests to protect, and would quite happily throw Assad to the wolves if they considered it to be in their own national interests.

Here's the thing: few of us do things expecting that we'll be punished. Occasionally, someone does: They stand up on a matter of principle, ready for the consequences. But mostly, wrong deeds are done because (subconsciously) we believe we'll get away with it. Sometimes it's conscious - we believe ourselves to be masters at the art.

War crimes tribunals will never manage to bring every perpetrator to justice. Too many misdeeds are done in time of war, by even the most junior soldiers, that it's simply not possible.

But that's where this verse comes in, part of an address given by the apostle Paul in Athens:

God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)

Lustig's analysis of Bosnia and Syria sheds light on this verse in two ways.

First, modern readers often treat the idea of a divine judgement day as bad news. The fact is, we wouldn't want to live in a world where there is no justice. Deep down, we all have a thirst to see wrongs righted. Paul speaks good news: One day, every single wrong deed will be exposed, judged and receive it's just reward. That is enormously refreshing to know.

Second, the reason we dislike the idea of a judgement is because we also know, again deep down, that the wrongs in the world are not just the preserve of other people. If all wrongs are to be punished, that leaves each of us approaching that judgement day with dread.

It's tempting to do what Lustig imagines Syrian war criminals to be doing: We shut our eyes, and carry on as we are, assuming we'll get away with it and the things we do will never catch up with us. Or we might despair, knowing that a judgement is inevitable, so it doesn't matter what we do. Or we try desparately to patch things up, to become better people, forgetting that the past must still be dealt with.

Here's a far better approach: Jesus, the Son of God died, so that everyone who trusts him can have their sins carried and punished by him instead of by us. The door is open for each of us to arrive at that judgement day forgiven, all our former misdeeds already paid in full. We have the opportunity to know for certain now that the verdict on the last day will be "not guilty".

Jesus offers this out to each and every person - all we have to do is receive it. We could assume the art of getting away with it will succeed forever. It is far better to approach the certain day, when everything catches up with us, in the sure knowledge that everything is forgiven.

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