The Common Good

Jail Journal: The Boomerangs of Biblical Wrath

The following is part of the author´s "jail journal," written in early 2004 while he was serving a 90-day sentence in Georgia for having "crossed the line" at Ft. Benning in protest against the U.S. Army's School of the Americas. Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition.

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Psalm 8 celebrates human dignity in a world reflective of divine majesty:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers....
What are human beings that you are mindful of them....?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.

However, this positive, joyful psalm is surrounded by others which bemoan the seemingly immense injustice and evil in the world. As usual in scripture, the truth is found in the whole, in the context.

Psalm 8 praises God for the splendor of all creation: moon, stars, sheep, oxen, birds of the air, fish of the sea. The human being has a unique dignity and splendor in creation. A "little lower than God," people are called to shepherd and cultivate the other creatures.

But human beings, having vaunted ourselves to be "a little greater than God," have traded our God-given dominion for a greedy domination and exploitation of nature, including other human beings. In jails and prisons, as well as in corporate boardrooms and war-planning councils, we see brothers and sisters who have pawned their crowns of glory and honor for swords of violence and spears of thievery and exploitation.

Now if we look to the psalm preceding Ps 8, we find a struggle between good and evil whose outcome is glimpsed only through the faith and hope of the oppressed.

Once evil gets under way, it requires lies: "See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies" (7:14). Injustice needs to suppress the truth, as Paul would later explain: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth" (Rom 1:18).
This deliberateness of sin is also mentioned in 2 Thessalonians: some are perishing "because they refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2:10). Jesus identified the devil, who "was a murderer from the beginning," as "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn 8:44). And since war is often based on and sustained by deception, it is said that truth is the first casualty of war.

God can never take a day off from witnessing injustice: "God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day" (Ps 7:11). God seeks not only justice but also repentance: "If one does not repent, God will whet his sword" (v. 12).
We soon see, however, that the fiery arrows of judgment and justice are more like boomerangs rather than missiles shot directly by God -- boomerangs hurled forth first by human aggressors: "Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends" (v. 16). Industrial air pollutants, for instance, traceable to the executives' and stockholders' environmentally irresponsible lust for profit maximization, descend upon their heads and those of their families, coworkers, and nation.

Joseph E. Mulligan, a Catholic priest (Jesuit) from Detroit, works with Christian Base Communities and with people with disabilities in Nicaragua. He is the author of The Nicaraguan Church and the Revolution (Sheed & Ward, 1991) and The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador: Celebrating the Anniversaries (Fortkamp, 1994).

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