Locke, Right and Wrong, and a Theological Imperative
The other night I watched Locke, a 2014 drama starring Tom Hardy. Locke focuses in on one man who makes an instant decision and in an hour and a half car ride sees the results of this decision unfold before him as he works through it in various phone calls.
His decision is one wracked with consequences. If he goes one way many of his problems go away, but he will abandon an ideal. If he goes the other, he will lose everything he loves, but maintain his integrity.
Either way there are consequences.
His choices blur the lines between right and wrong. There really is no way that he can have it all.
Right and wrong will always be taught and insisted upon – rightly so – but when pressed hard enough they crumble beneath us. We hold to our ideals, but there is almost always an exception – a but is found.
Murder is wrong. But there is self-defense. But there is war. But there is Hitler and he doesn’t deserve to live.
Stealing is wrong. But there are poor who need to find food for their children. But there is stealing from the exploitative rich to give to the poor.
If you believe that we are socialized beings then culpability for the wrong we do can even be questioned. The abuser is often one who was abused. The racist usually did not grow up in a place where they were able to interact with people who did not look like them. These people commit wrongful acts, but what if those things had not been done to them? What if.
In the film, his wife tells him that there is good and there is bad and in his decision he chose bad and is now is forced to live with it. Some may say the wife is extra harsh, but she is right that mistakes have consequences. Nobody can blame her for the decision she makes. She takes on the role of the justice system, which lays out that we must punish a crime even if it was committed by somebody who had no other option. Or who was abused. Or is repeating a cycle. A standard must be set, justice must be served regardless of the but.
This makes us turn to a broader sense of justice, one which Martin Luther King Jr. insisted the universe was bent toward. If there is a God who reigns over all, one who is considered the ultimate judge (only God can judge me right?), where does God come down? If anyone could truly tell where the standard was set and where a person’s intentions lied it would be God right?
Of course God could judge all of our intentions weighed against our upbringing in a divine formula He has created and knows the answers to (should we call this GodWAR?) or perhaps right and wrong is not so neatly defined – even for God.
The central tenet of Christianity should be grace. There is forgiveness for all, God sees the games we play, how are lives are complexly fashioned by the people around us, and how the decisions we make are always falling into the cracks of our ethics. Unlike the wife in Locke who acts according to justice, God chooses mercy.
Of course there are consequences in daily life, mercy does not exclude bad things from happening. Justice will occur – in some form.
A black and white color spectrum of right and wrong is too rigid to explain life on earth, I’d rather take Jesus’ prayer – “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”, because we really don’t.
There is no truth but love, no justice but grace.