I recent read the full judgement of a County Court judge for the crime of sexual abuse of children. I skipped some bits relating to the details of the abuse but read the judge’s comments on the victim impact; the gravity of offending; contextual items; the process of sentencing and what is and isn’t considered as well as the cumulation and totality of sentences; personal issues relating to the perpetrator; matters of deterrence, punishment, and denunciation; and the actual sentence. I list all these because I was impressed at the forensic precision exhibited here in relation to a crime and it brought home to me that crimes – which are usually sins as well – have ripples, effects, and consequences often far beyond the immediate moment. Sins have long reaching tentacles it seems to me.
However what most struck me was the wording – the judge spoke in the active tense – he was pronouncing judgement – and there was a little word – ‘fall’. I came across the phrases ‘fall to be punished’, ‘falls to be sentenced’, ‘fall now to be sentenced’. I understood what it meant but I didn’t know how it came about and I’d not heard it before in this context. You can fall – down, flat, be wounded, killed, give in, gaze down, be despondent, be directed to a specific place, be pregnant, be born, issue forth, slope downwards, diminish in status. Wickets fall, so do events and seasons. I tried to find whether there is a specific legal understanding but couldn’t (so if anyone knows it please tell me). My hunch is in two directions that ‘fall’ here is an archaic usage meaning to ‘begin to do’ but it also relates to payments that ‘fall due’. A crime is when someone is damaged by another and the ‘repair’ if possible and ‘social consequence’ is regarded – and can actually be – a payment. The repair has to cost.
Christians are used to sins being described as debts and forgiveness as a payment for the debt or a cancellation of the debt. Sins can be thought of as falls and the consequences can further accentuate the downward trajectory into shame, despair. To fall here is not good for us. How will we get up? Or perhaps the question is more ‘Who will lift us up?’. And that is where for Christians a Redeemer comes in. To redeem is essentially to ‘buy back’, reclaim, repossess – maybe even to save and rescue.
In Lent we can consider the tentacles of sin and how far and wide they may affect us and those around us. This will emphasise our falls and, when discovered, the judgement or punishment that will fall on us. But as we watch Jesus in Lent go to the cross and end his life there, we find someone who has saved and redeemed lost and condemned sinners not with silver or gold but with his holy, innocent, suffering and death! That forgiveness and redemption changes us to both struggle with our sins and honestly face what we have done and do what we can to make amends towards those we have wronged. What God gives to us he expects us to give away to others and in Lent we are reminded – and challenged – that it definitely includes forgiveness. ‘The Fall’ no longer has the last word! GS