My neighbour is doing a school project for his final year about whether the British Government should change the law so that the constabulary are regularly armed with handguns. Part of the project involved getting people’s opinions and he asked me whether, as a police chaplain, I might be able to help gett his questionnaire completed by the police. (He didn’t really need me for this task for the powers-that-be were more than happy for his questions to be sent out.) I collected the replies from the officers this week and no-ticed the first few comments – ‘No’ – the British Bobby shouldn’t routinely be armed. I don’t know what the other replies said – and I’m keen to see the results of the pro-ject. Tasers and pepper spray were good deterrents seemed to be the idea. But what came home to me was the idea of proportionality.
I see it in the Commonwealth Games as I watch many sports – boxing, weightlifting, judo, wrestling, and the Para-Sport programme. The competition is a competition when ‘alike’ opponents compete. I see it in the judicial system when people have a sense that a sentence is either too heavy or too light – because it is not in proportion with how people view the offence. Graded reading or mathematics programmes exist because we accept people grow in their learning. For many, salaries are calculated on the basis of proportionality (whether that be on the basis of education or experience or results or all three).
Proportionality is expected in battles – even if the combatants number millions (how tragic) as this weekend throughout the UK there are commemorations of World War 1 – and that’s why I think we laugh at the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy holding his whip is confronted in the market place with the swordsman where upon he whips out his gun. Ok, it’s not the Mar-quess of Queensberry and we’d be appalled in real life but in the cinema, we laugh. We don’t mind things being uneven – disproportionate – when it is the ‘little guy’ who wins. So when David wins over Goliath that’s ‘ok’ but should Goliath have won, then I think everyone would have thought Saul was wrong to send the lad out to fight. When things are disproportionate then we seem to support the ‘underdog’. Nevertheless for our lives to have safety and security, for there to be peace and justice, for there to be food for all, we rely on proportionality.
Except when it comes to our faith. Christianity, through the Old and New Testaments, reveals again and again the power of sacrifice to deal with transgression, impurity, and sin. This isn’t proportional but God’s gracious act. I don’t know what the responses were of those who heard John the Baptist pointing to Jesus and saying, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ but I recall in Damascus the time Charlotte and I were the objects of a young man’s desire to convert us to Islam and his incredulous response that Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world simply was not just (ie. justice). And he’s right! It’s actually grace! God doesn’t treat us as we deserve but has forgiven us and given us life with him through Jesus’ sacrifice.
We still need proportionality to live well in this world but if the followers of Jesus are going to be disproportionate then let them be like God – overflowing with mercy no matter what. — GS