Shanann loved her husband, Chris. She called him her “rock.” On May 5th, She posted, “I love this man! He’s my ROCK!” Later, the next month, when she found out she was pregnant with his third child, she, like most expecting mothers posted a picture of the sonogram and said, “I love Chris! He’s the best dad we girls could ask for.” Shanann’s newsfeed was a constant buzz of love and marital bliss on a show for the world to see how it should be done. Everyone who knew them sang praises of their love and happy role model family skills. That is until Aug. 16th, 2018 when Christopher Watts, age 33, confessed to murdering his wife, Shanann, who was 15 weeks pregnant, and their two daughters, 3-year-old Celeste and 4-year-old Bella. So much for being her rock, or “the best dad we girls could ask for.” Best dads don’t murder you and hide your bodies at work, then come home and plead into the camera for whoever took you to return you!
Justice. It is all about payback. Right?
Or is that retribution? Retribution is the idea that all evil deeds need to be returned in kind. Literally, it is “the dispensing or receiving of punishment”
Justice, more simply, is the quality of being impartial or fair, “administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited punishments”
In the strictest sense justice, in a world run amok, is retribution done fairly. If you kick me, I get to kick you at the same level of intensity. If you rob me of a loaf of bread, I get to force you (through the courts or otherwise) to return the same amount to me. If you kill my family member, I kill yours. Fair is fair.
Hence the Bible declares, an “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, “right? Biblical Justice, however, demands more then what is fair. God’s law is deemed perfect and the standard of Justice that flows from God’s heart (Psalm 119:142 Psalm 19:7, James 1:25, Matt. 5:17-20). David declares if you don’t live just right, godly destruction is coming. You don’t have to kill to be rewarded with death; you just have to live “evilly,” which is to say out of step with holiness and God’s holy perfect law:
“Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. (Psalm 37:27-2)
Moses said if you get caught stealing you have to pay it back double! (Exodus 22:7) And if you are unable, then you could be sold to pay the debt! (Exodus 22:4). But King Solomon took it further demanding that a thief pay back up to seven times the amount, even if it leaves them and their whole family broke! (Proverbs 6:31)
Embedded in the Biblical idea of Justice are both payments for what you took and payments for the inconvenience and damage of the harm caused; thus, punitive damages sometimes are imposed as even an extra burden added to help motivate you not to go back and do it again (2x vs. 7x payback). Justice, in a fallen world, is payback. It is payback done fairly. However, what is not embedded in Justice is Mercy. If justice is payback, many have decided Mercy is a pass.
Now here is the twist. We all want Justice when we are the victim. No, we all demand Justice when we are the victim! But we want Mercy when we are the guilty. No, we go as far and to plead, beg and pray for mercy when we are the guilty.
Hence, the tension I now feel. I want justice for Shanann! I want justice for Shanann’s unborn baby! I want Justice for Celeste! Celeste was just three years old and was murdered by her own Daddy! I want justice for Bella, who at four years old was killed by the man who used to rock her to sleep in the safety of his strong arms! I want justice! My heart aches and tears come to my eyes when I read Chris’s own recount of murdering Celeste, age 3, right in front of Bella age 4, and Bella pleading of her life in terror of her own Daddy, “Is the same thing gonna happen to me as Cece?” And as he placed the blanket on her head to smother her, little four-year-old Bella cried out pleading for her life, “Daddy No!” Her Daddy did not heed her cries, against all nature her Daddy had no compassion, no mercy for his own little girls.
Is it wrong to want Chris to face Justice with no mercy? No.
King David in the Bible pleaded for it all the time. He was known to say prayers like this: “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked,” “Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins.” One of the things that have been shocking to my morning bible study group as we work through Psalms is just how thirsty for justice David can get. Consider this minor tangent of David’s thirst for justice:
“Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the Lord,
that he may blot out their name from the earth.”
Yeah, David, not only wishes suffering and death, at points, it almost seems he is rooting for eternal damnation of his enemies. Still, the Bible calls him a “Man after God’s own heart!” Why? It is godly to want Justice. When we see evil winning or ruling, it is the very image of God, “Imago Dei,” in us demanding it be made right! To desire justice is not only normal, but it is also godly. But remember: You don’t have to murder your wife and children to deserve death. You just have not to have lived perfectly by God’s holy law. Question? Do you still want Justice with no mercy? David repeatedly fell back at the end of most of his psalms crying for Mercy when he saw the awe of Justice without it.
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works. All Your works shall praise You, O Lord, And Your saints shall bless You.” (Psalms 145:8-10)
Let me put it another way, are you willing to fry, to ensure Chris can fry for killing his family?
Harder, right? Because Jesus reversed justice with mercy; not by giving it a pass but by taking the payback. Jesus died when you were guilty so that you would not have to. The book Desires ofAges, which is a detailed reflection of the life of Jesus, puts it this way, “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves.” DA 25. The apostle Paul puts it this way, “For our sake, he made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that, in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Mercy is not a harlot of Justice. Mercy is not a pass. Mercy is the execution of all justice on One who was innocent, so that penalty would not be ignored, yet could allow the repentant to escape. Does Christopher Watts, deserve mercy? Nope. Then again, neither do I. I never killed anyone… except Jesus, on the Cross, with my sin. I have not lived a perfectly holy life. My sin killed Jesus. Your sin killed Jesus.
Before the fall justice and mercy would have been one and the same. Justice is peace and righteousness, living in love, declaring the righteousness of God and his Law. Mercy is how Jesus restores justice at the fall.
I want justice for the poor; which can happen if the rich knew mercy.
I want justice for the oppressed; which can happen if the powerful are touched by mercy.
I want justice for the orphan; which can happen if the childless became fathers.
I want justice for the hated. Which can happen if the bigot becomes saved.
I want justice for Shanann, her unborn, Celeste, and Bella; which can happen if Christopher repents and accepts Jesus as his Savior.
Imagine a Kingdom, imagine a world, imagine a God, who takes the paybacks so that Christopher, Shanann, her unborn child, Celeste, and Bella could one day be a loving family, again, in the Kingdom where Christopher would not only be really repentant, but his family would not hold their murders against him. That is the Power of Jesus; when mercy rules justice.
I want godly Justice. God wants to call me to godly Mercy. Neither wins unless we both do and that requires repentance. There is only one place in all of the fallen world that justice and mercy overlap and that one spot is the foot of the cross. Only at the cross is mercy not a pass. Only at the cross is sin paid, justice met, and the pre-fall harmony of a just existence restored in mankind.
On the last day, Chris will face his Creator. Chris will answer for his horrendous sickening actions. And Chris will face the undiluted wrath of an angry God who at that point will spare no mercy on Chris and punish him in ways humanity never could. And, Chris will deserve everything he gets. It will be full wrath, full vengeance, full JUSTICE poured out without mixture of any kind; unless Christopher Watts, in this world, does more than admit his crime, but fully and meaningfully repent with complete responsibility asking Jesus to take the Payback for him. While I can’t understand it, and my mind can’t grasp it, Jesus is willing to take the Payback for us all, even Christopher Watts. The only question that remains is, will a cold-blooded narcissistic sociopath like Christopher Watts ever truly want anything to do with mercy. He refused to hear the cries of mercy from his Bella and all I can say is unlike Chris God hears all cries.
Justice is not something we just seek to uphold. Justice is something we model to the fallen world by both our abhorrence of capital sin and our eagerness to openly and publicly mourn and repent or own bent nature towards it. I don’t have to be a murderer, a bigot, or an oppressor to practice injustice; I only have to lack hatred of the evilness of sin, lack real heartfelt mercy for those trapped in it, and lack my own acknowledgment and repentance of my fallen tendency to be unjust in my own favorite ways. I am, we are, the mode in which the world sees mercy melt injustice away.
You know what they say, “Payback is a … … b... … bought a commodity in Jesus.”
 The actual contexts of this passage is rarely looked at or considered. It is only meant to be implied for fair treatment of the pregnant or those serving as slaves. In other words, it was an insurance policy for the weakest and most disenfranchised in the land. See Exodus 21.