The heart-breaking story of Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman is a tragedy that not only lingers because of the moral outrage we feel, but one that escalates because of its inherent implications. I am the father of three young men. Were any one of them to become the target of a miscarriage of justice (particularly because of the color of his skin), the anger and frustration that I would feel would undoubtedly be incalculable. And were we to compound together the anger and frustration felt by all who can see themselves in the shoes of the Trayvon’s family, we will find that we have a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts because the anger of each of us, as we vent it, feeds also the anger within ourselves and in others.
There are a number of responses that conceivably could be set in motion (and some of them have been). Some are appropriate, but some are not. Simply put, fixing what is wrong is right. Doing wrong as a reaction to being wronged is… well, wrong also.
The Lord Himself speaks to these matters when He says, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15 ESV). The fact that the George Zimmerman was not found guilty may well appear to be an injustice: some see the verdict as a racially motivated sanction of a racially motivated crime.
However, it is important to acknowledge the intentional limits of the justice system here: the jury had one basic decision to make in this trial - to find Zimmerman guilty of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt… or not. While the limits here may come across as protecting someone who may be guilty, those same limits are in place to protect those who may be innocent in other situations. Those limits must be rigidly adhered to in a consistent way, or those limits cease to be protections.
In the case of when justice is not served because its own hands are bound in the safety nets that are in place to prevent greater injustices, we must be wary of lynch mob mentality that is stirred up by the hate-mongering of those who love to hate. In fact, God again addresses this in the previously mentioned passage (Leviticus 19:16 ESV) when He says, “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.”
Yes, it is quite possible that a man who is guilty of an outrageous crime escapes the justice of the court. But in our anger we must take care to not sin also by either retaliating or using such tragedy as tools for the provoking of others to retaliation. Not only does our retaliating not achieve righteousness (translate as “rightness” or “justice”) that we say we wish to see, but it also incurs for us an ultimate judgment from God Himself. But it’s not enough to just not retaliate or slander another (or his race) when we suffer anger over perceived injustices, we also must not let our anger instill within us attitudes of unforgiveness and hate towards others.
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:17-18 ESV).
There are layers of tragedy here. There is the spiritual tragedy of course. All the injustice that runs rampant today is injustice that a just God must and will judge. Hence, the admonitions from the Lord in the previously mentioned Scriptures are all capped with God’s declaration that, “I am the LORD.” No injustice will endure but all injustice will be settled by the great Judge Himself.
There is also the tragedy of the disease of racism still infecting our society. And it has become such a convoluted and complex problem socially that we can see its manifestations in all groups: within black, Native American, Latino, Asian and white arenas.
Then there is the tragedy of hate and unforgiveness becoming so entrenched in a people’s identity that it becomes what defines them (and this is indeed a tragedy). Are any of us intended by our Creator to be known by our victimization? Or by how we matched hate with hate? No. We are meant for something other than that. It is a sad thing when we cannot see any other way to spend ourselves.
But, when all else is said and done, there is the heart-breaking tragedy of a mother and a father who have lost their son in a senseless killing. There is the tragedy of the empty chair at the dinner table, the empty bed in the night, and the empty place in the hearts of those who knew and loved Trayvon Martin.