Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Devon Dick: Trump Eye for an Eye

Published:Thursday | April 21, 2016 | 4:00 AM

Donald Trump, United States (US) Republican presidential hopeful, was reported as saying that his favourite Bible verse was 'an eye for an eye' based on "when you see what's going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us ... we have to be firm and have to be very strong ..." This has drawn the ire of Rickey Yaneza, who claims that Trump's admiration of a passage from the Mosaic Law was specifically condemned by Jesus in the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-42). Yaneza concluded that Trump was a fake Christian and no true Christian would want to support him (April 17, Yahoo News)

There is much misunderstanding about the command an eye for an eye. This injunction from the Old Testament was based on the principle of justice and equality. It is about the punishment being equal to the crime. Therefore, one should not take a sledgehammer to kill an ant. If someone steals an ackee, do not cut off the person's hand as justified reprimand.

An eye for an eye is the premise of sentencing in a court of law; the penalty should express appropriate disgust of society against the offence. In other words, adhering to the principle of an eye for an eye would imply that the US could not have engaged in pre-emptive strike on Iraq based on intelligence only. Furthermore, waterboarding and other forms of torture, which Trump supports, go contrary to the principle of an eye for an eye.

The eye for an eye mandate has been made to look foolish based on the comment of Mahatma Gandhi, Indian non-violent advocate, who said, "An eye for an eye and the whole world will go blind." Relationships cannot be based on justice alone. There will be times, for the good of the community, when we release a person of the debt they owe.

 

GO BEYOND JUSTICE

Jesus the Christ asked his followers to go beyond justice and extend mercy when he said in Matthew 5:38-42, "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 anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." In other words, justice demands an eye for an eye; however, mercy and grace offer to the offender an opportunity he or she does not deserve and could not earn. Mercy is showing restraint towards those whom one has the power to punish or harm, 'there are times we should not exact our pound of flesh'. It is not every time our children do wrong there is an equal punishment. We forgive and let go.

Some persons have interpreted Jesus to mean that all Christians should be pacifists. This position rules out self-defence. It seems to be a call to accept violence and never to defend even others who are vulnerable. This position, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean there would be no need for a court system in order to get redress or for the security forces for the maintenance of the rule of law and the orderly development of the society.

Jesus seems to be saying that not every time someone does wrong, we must punish that someone. There will be times when we ought to give someone a second chance or heap coals of fire on the wicked when we do not react to injustice in like manner. Giving up of our rights can be a great witness to the power of God.

An eye for an eye represents justice, but justice ought to be tempered with mercy.

• Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.