In a chapter titled ‘The Voice of Saruman’ from The Two Towers, a band representing the best of Middle Earth faces the imprisoned, evil-incarnate sorcerer Saruman. He has wreaked untold damage and destroyed countless lives and now, we hope, justice will be served. The good guys are furious and want revenge.
But then Saruman speaks.
And the justice-minded crowd is, in the twinkling of an eye, wracked with pity for the old man. They doubt themselves, their cause and their leaders. Saruman’s voice is working its magic and suddenly justice doesn’t look sweet, merely petty and degrading.
Every time I read that scene I want to shout, “Don’t listen to him! He is destructive and evil and if you let him go he’ll just continue his rampage!” But underneath my bluster is the uneasy feeling that I would be among those moved to misguided and dangerous pity. Necessary Justice can be a bitter pill.
Jerry Sandusky, defensive coach at Penn State, was accused of molesting countless children and found guilty. The full penalty is a life in prison.
Justice is served.
But there it comes: the smidge of pity I feel for the man who has blighted so many lives.
Why? Why can’t I rejoice in Justice? Is it my weak nature? Can one pitiful specimen of a cornered old man make me forget the unforgivable number of marred lives?
Is it possibly the uneasy feeling that no one on earth can wield the sword of perfect justice? The realization that the accusers in one case are often the accused in another? Is it that awkward moment when I glimpse myself clearly and realize I no doubt have caused hurt and damage through words and deeds?
Or is it the inadequate balance of Justice? What mathematical formula states: ‘This many years in prison for the horrific act upon each child, this portion of lousy food for the emotional damage to each child, this status of a pariah equals the pain of future generations crippled by each horrific act’?
Justice is often personified as blinded. She can’t let the blindfold slip and be moved by sentimentality. She can’t question what sort of demons Mr. Sandusky has faced since he was a child that may have contributed to a life of preying on children.
Justice can’t be concerned with the bitter aftertaste of punishment when she lifts her sword. She can’t bother with the metaphysical or philosophical limitations of ‘an eye for an eye’ and she can’t be moved with pity.
She may be cold and hard, but that is infinitely preferable to capricious and soft-minded.
Justice, like any strong medicine, can leave a bitter aftertaste.
The only way to avoid the medicine is to keep from the disease in the first place.