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Friday 9 January 2015

Life’s Not Always Fair - A Big Lesson Learnt From Serial

It’s those four little words that every parent uses to counsel their children, ‘Life's not always fair’. Usually it’s at the dinner table and it’s because Timmy got a bigger piece of chicken than Susy, and in these situations, the parents are doing a good thing, they are preparing their child for the fact that sometimes in life things don’t go our way, sometimes we get the short end of the stick. And for little things, like arguments with siblings, or friends at school, you want kids to have the big, stiff upper lip and backbone to deal with the fact that life is not fair. But for the big things that thought actually causes us to recoil, because it feels a bit glib.

Where is this all coming from, Matthew? Well over the last few days I have been listening to the podcast Serial. For those of you who do not know what it is, it is a true crime drama/report where reporter Sarah Koenig tells the true story of Adnan Syed, who was charged, tried and convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Without giving too much away, because the podcast is riveting, and I highly recommend listening to it, it seems that there is more than just a reasonable doubt that Adnan was actually guilty. In fact it seems he got the short end of the stick in many different ways, including a trial lawyer who seems may not have been at her best when the case was in court. Let me be clear, I cannot speak to whether or not this man is innocent or not, but he was convicted on so little evidence, with the key evidence being a witness who is more than just a little bit duplicitous, that it still raises the question: what if Syed is innocent? Because if he is innocent, as he himself claims, and as many people who know him also believe, then it seems more than just a little unfair that he has lost 15 years of his life and counting.

But even aside from Adnan’s potential innocence, or maybe guilt, we have countless examples of how brutal and unfair this world can be, just a couple of days after I began listening to the Serial podcast, I read this article “Brian Banks, CA Football Player, Exonerated Of Rape Charges After Over 5 Years In Prison” (Deutsch), which tells how Brian Banks, a CA football player, was exonerated of rape charges that he spent five years in jail for, and five years on probation, and which took away his chance of going to college, and at least delayed if not destroyed his chance of becoming a professional football player. He was innocent, but he was convicted on the testimony of the ‘victim’ who named him, and who did not want to recant her testimony as she did not want to have to pay back the $1.5 million she got in damages. She was eventually caught on tape admitting to her crime of falsely accusing him, and has since been legally declared innocent, but he will never get those years back. Unfortunately however, the unfairness of our world does not stop there.

Just google ‘man found innocent’, or ‘innocent man freed’, or ‘wrongly convicted’ and you will find countless stories of innocent people who have spent 10, 15, 30, or more years in prison and finally been set free. It’s wonderful that they have been set free, but how is it fair to have that much of their life taken from them? To have lost time with loved ones, wives, children, friends, careers, hobby’s, goals and more. They will come out and have to start their lives again, and because of what? A legal system that made a mistake, sometimes wilfully, sometimes accidently, but with way to much frequency; how is that fair? Where is the justice? This could happen to any of us. How many of us have an alibi for where we are all the time? Likely, none of us.

But think about this, some people get an incredible lot in life, and some get a horror of a lot in life. Compare James Bain with Kim Kardashian. Kim Kardashian is a beautiful young socialite, born into a wealthy family, her father being an incredibly successful lawyer, she is born with looks, money and connections, and has built more fame and wealth from that foundation; she’s literally famous for being famous, and has a dream life style. Holidays wherever she wants, gets to hang out with the coolest of people, she can afford the dream homes she wants, buys expensive cars, eats in fancy restaurants, and she has done nothing to deserve this - she was just born into a lifestyle that most people only dream of and desire to have. James Bain on the other hand spent 35 years in jail, convicted of molesting a young boy; a crime he did not commit. What happened? The young man misidentified him, as he looked a bit like the real attacker; talk about a bad situation. He was eventually exonerated by DNA evidence, something he had been asking for, for years. Wow, is this an unfair allotment of life experience.

Kim Kardashian has a dream life, and James Bain literally lives what some of us would consider a worst case scenario life. But here’s what’s incredible; his response:  

Exonerated by DNA evidence, James Bain isn’t angry about spending 35 years of his life in prison for a horrific crime that he didn’t commit. “How can I be?” he told Business Insider. “You can’t go back.” Bain actually feels blessed for his experience, comparing himself to Joseph, a biblical character who was wrongfully imprisoned before emerging with greater power to create change. (Sterbenz 2013).  

How does a man, who has every right to be angry at the police, the FBI, the person who wrongfully accused him, the inept jury, the painfully slow process to get his DNA testing, the bureaucracy of a legal system that kept him in prison; how does this man have this kind of response to the unfairness of his life situation. Because of his eternal perspective:

Today, Bain tells his experience from middle schools to colleges across the county. “I have to thank God,” James said. His humility and kindness even extend to the rape victim whose misidentification helped put Bain behind bars. When the two met after his release, Bain apologized for what happened to him. “I was very, very sorry that had to occur to him at such a young age,” Bain said. “I know what his family and uncle had to go through to try and prove me guilty at the time.”

There is an old saying everyone knows, ‘Of too heavenly a mind, for any earthly good’, but in reality a truly biblical perspective of the afterlife and complete faith in God does the exact opposite. You see if this world is all there is, and there is no heaven, and no hell, then this life sucks for probably 99% of the people who have ever lived in it. Most people in the world today and most people alive throughout history have copped the short end of the stick when it comes to life experience. Just picture what it was like to be a slave in the Roman Empire, or a non-citizen even in one of the provenances. Consider what it was like to be a native African Alive on the west coast of Africa during the peak of the European slave trade. Consider what it is like to be a Dalit person alive in India today; consider how few people ever actually get to live in a mansion, or even a house, or live the life of luxury we all wish we could have, to one degree or another; consider all of the injustices and unfair things that happen in our world every day, the list is endless. Today as you read this there will be a lot of babies born into wealthy families around the world and hundreds of thousands more babies born into situations where there isn’t even enough food for their already born siblings. How is all of this fair?  

The short answer is it is not fair, the long answer is it is not fair, and God’s response is that he will one day make it right. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that for all of those who trust in him, and make him their Lord, we get the reward of an eternity of complete absence of all the evils in this world we all have had to deal with; some of us more than others. A future with no more crying, no more pain, no more heart ache, no more tears, no more hunger (Rev. 21:1-4). But more than that, there will be a final judgement, where every injustice is weighed by a perfect judge, and every crime, every unfair treatment will be exposed and dealt with, “For we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body; whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). God will bring justice against all who have wronged others, we can either accept his forgiveness through his justice displayed on the cross (cf. Rom 3:20-28), or we can face his correction of all wrongs on the day of judgement.

But the point is this; James Bain can thank God and consider himself blessed, because he has a better hope than even a life as awesome and as wealthy as Kim Kardahian’s. He has the hope of an eternity in heaven, and even the loss of 35 years of his life does not compare to that. Sure, no one wants to go to prison for a crime they did not commit, but compare that to the incredibleness of heaven in the presence of God and his angels, and the promised reward to all God’s people who bear up under suffering, and there is reason to rejoice.

Coming back to the podcast Serial, I don’t know whether Adnan is innocent or not, and maybe a retrial will send him straight back to prison with a clear verdict of guilty, but it got me thinking about how unfair this world is, and how many people face injustice, and I could not help but think, ‘I am glad that I have the hope that I do in Jesus Christ.’ Whether you are a believer or a sceptic, you have to admit, there is power for perseverance and for good that comes from knowing that in heaven all injustices will be righted, all unfairness will be levelled out. It inspires in countless believers a desire not to be bitter but to forgive, a desire not to overlook injustice, but work for what is right, and more than anything a desire to see that as many people get to share in the blessed hope of an eternity with Jesus as possible.