room for forgiveness?

I read an excellent article in today’s Telegraph by Brian Masters about Jon Venables, one of the two ten year old boys who horrifically murdered James Bulger 17 years ago.

The article explores the reaction to Venables’ return to custody and who has the right to know.  It also, perhaps more interestingly explores the reaction of ‘the public’.

Venables and Thomson were tried and convicted in an adult court.  They were found guilty and sentenced to a custodial sentence.  They were released on parole.  No-one has ever denied that the crime they committed was horrific.  No-one has ever suggested that they shouldn’t be punished.

What Masters’ suggests is that two 10 year old boys may be as much victims as their own victim.  And that seems to be something people don’t want to hear.

When they were convicted a crowd gathered around the police van, banging on the sides.  If the van had stopped and opened it’s doors the boys would have been taken out by the adults and killed.

If you read all of Masters’ article and scroll down to the comments you will see that 17 years later there would seem to be a significant number of people who would still volunteer to pull the switch, administer the lethal injection or pull the rope tight.

I don’t believe that children get to a point where they abduct and torture smaller children without influence (or lack of it) from adults.  I wonder what my children learn when they see a group of adults calling for the execution of children?

I have children.  If one of them was killed I would feel the same way.  I would want revenge.  I would want to kill whoever did it.

And that’s why it’s right that I should play no part in the administration of justice in a scenario like that.

The bigger question for me is why society, or at least a proportion of it, seems to completely dismiss the chance of rehabilitation, restoration and, dare I say it, forgiveness and why we seem to have reached a point where we see children as ‘evil’ and beyond hope?

What does that say about us as a society?  What does it say about forgiveness?

6 thoughts on “room for forgiveness?”

  1. This is a very complex situation. I suspect that the reason why there is so much anger is that the two boys have in effect been living free and new lives after having committed this crime. There doesn’t seem to be justice here (for those who have lost a child). If an adult had committed this crime I think they would still be in prison and unlikely to have parole and probably in a secure wing away from other prisoners.
    When it comes to prison and justice I find myself wrestling with the whole notion of forgiveness, and restoration. For me, there has to be some consequence to the crime committed, with the consequence being proportionate to the crime. As a recurrent victim of small crime (objects thrown at windows and verbal and often blasphemous obscenities) I find myself frustrated by the lack of justice in the system. Police know who the individuals are, they are taking into the justice system, given a gentle tap on the back of their hands and set free to continue the harassment.
    You raise very important questions about our reaction to this particular case. I would ask about the very nature of justice in the system as it stands at the moment.

  2. This whole situation saddens me greatly. I am minded to agree with you Stewart that having committed the crime at such a young age there is something tangibly different to if they had committed it as adults. I also agree with the need for punishment but would locking them up for their whole lives (as some would want) be in any way right? That would mean they were in custody from around the age of ten till death – where is the chance for change? In effect they would have been robbed of their lives. You might say that they would have course have been released after 20 or 25 years as seems standard but by that point they would have spent so much of their lives in custody could they ever be expected to cope with life on the outside?

    It is a difficult set of questions and I don’t have the answer. The most saddening bit is the way the mother of the victim still seems to feel. What happened to her child is horrific, no one disagrees with that but she must surely move on at some point. 17 years on and she is still filled with hatred, she hasn’t moved on and on one level that is understandable but on another deeply worrying. She can’t possibly continue to live her whole life filled with such feelings. I think expecting her to forgive might be unfair, other cases of the murder of children have seen exceptional reactions by parents, but for her sake I hope she does manage to move on.

  3. Thanks guys for taking on such a tricky story. I hesitate before posting on a specific case. Sorry if I say something silly.

    Age is not so much the factor for me but were they morally responsible/accountable at the age they were. This is an individual thing so there’s no magic date to point to. I don’t know them. Has the modern system taken rehabilitation to the primary focus of the justice system? Fair punishment seems secondary or even tertiary at times.

    Even more challenging, if JV became a follower of Christ could you see them as a brother? Would you share fellowship with him? Would JB and JV meet in Heaven? As breakers of God’s perfect Holy Law, JV and I both deserve the same eternal punishment on Judgement day. I pray someone plainly shares the Gospel with him because that’s the forgiveness he really needs.

    Again sorry if I have said something wrong. Take care.

  4. Interesting thoughts, DM. Where would your thinking put Paul ? He literally held the coats at Stephen’s martyrdom after all….
    I accept the point about age of responsibility, but where does that put their parents ? This is an age where parental responsibility seems to be an option and not an obligation.

  5. Very good point on Paul though I don’t think any of his sins as far as we know were murder (at least going be the letter of the OT Law). Then again unjust execution is fairly close. If God decided Paul had a mission and not a sentence then fine by me (though he spent a lot of time locked up!).

    I try to remember the murderer at heart that I am when I have been angry or called another a name. (Matthew 5) ‘whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire’. Slipping into moral relativism is all too easy.

  6. I think that the Sermon on the Mount convicts Paul of murder…. He is certainly guilty by association. Like the point of Paul in jail though.

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