Justice?

“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.”  Micah 7:18-19

Mencaye helped kill five missionaries[1]in the Amazonian jungle in Ecuador, January 8, 1956. That story was told in the newspapers at the time, and was told by the surviving families in well-known books.[2] The story has been made into movies as well.[3] Now, he has told his own story and the story of his people, the Waorani [4], in Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear

Menkaye Aenkaedi book
Menkaye Aenkaedi, (cover) Gentle Savage Still Seeking the End of the Spear

In reading the first few chapters of Mencaye’s life in the jungle, from his own birth and leading up to that fatal morning, the horrifying story of Moipa took center stage. Moipa was a looming, murderous bigger-than-life figure throughout the jungle. He would single-mindedly set about killing sprees throughout wide ranges of tribal settlements in that area.  Moipa was almost superhuman in his ability to get around covertly in the jungle and was an ever-present fear factor in the lives of all the people.

The central driving force of Moipa’s existence, once he first killed, was that it was necessary for him to then kill the important relatives and any leading figures in the slaughtered person’s life to avoid a “revenge killing”.  And, of course, it snowballed from there, for every person killed also had a range of important people who could rise up and take Moipa down. Mencaye lived his whole life up to 1956 in constant fear and witness to horrific scenes of massacre.  Whole families were wiped out, including his own.

Amazingly, Mencaye and his two other life-long friends survived.  More amazing is that Moipa also survived, even though periods of “non-violence” when some woman stood up and threatened him if he killed some member of her family or her tribe.  He would remain in that tribe, safe from harm since he had promised not to kill.  Of course, he would go on a rampage again and again, breaking his promise, according to any opportunity or mood that would overtake him.

The Limits of Logic

As I read of his being taken into a tribe, I wondered, “Why doesn’t someone just take him out?”  And my heart was shocked at the answer it received almost immediately.

Justice seemed logical to me.  If this person is a loose cannon, the answer to stop all the mass killings would be to get rid of the danger in the midst of their society.  It seemed simple:  Stop the madness!  There were opportunities that were not taken.  They weren’t even thought of, according to what Mencaye relates.  They took Moipa at his word, even though they retained their high alert status in suspicion that his word was never law.

But within the primitive nature of this pre-Christian people group, there was something of mercy that went beyond justice.  Even though their entire existence was landmarked by violence, violence was not what they wanted—not even against the epitome of evil in their midst.  Their primitive humanity, sparked by the image of God in them by their creation, was a higher law than my own sense of the logic of justice.  In this, they reflected a facet of God’s own nature toward us.

Spoiler Alert:  Justice is served

In the end, Moipa was finally killed (“spoiler alert”).  Sure, it could have been their own terror that kept them from enacting “justice” before that time and not cognizant mercy.  This is what happens to victims of abuse; striking back is not always an option, even when the opportunity comes open. But throughout Mencaye’s account, the people would rise up and demand the killing to stop.  Something inside of them rose up in righteous indignation against the crime; they were so repulsed that they didn’t want to become like him themselves, so they hoped in a kind of mercy they didn’t quite understand.

I think it is important that we understand this about them.  Before the five missionaries came, they already knew this.  Missiologist Don Richardson tells us that he has seen the truth of the scripture that by creating us in His own image, God has placed eternity in our hearts so that we seek his character, even without knowing he exists.[5]  What the five missionaries brought was confirmation of this and the Way out of the cycle of death.

There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy

I’m not passing judgment on the ethics of the death penalty for murder.  I’m making a point about the kindness of God.  It is God’s own nature to be merciful and loving.  It is in my own nature, like Moipa’s, to look for justice even at the cost of life.  Moipa was evil, and I am evil.  I do not deserve anything better than what eventually came to Moipa.  I am Moipa.

And yet, my Lord was reflected in Mencaye and the others. In another “spoiler alert”, eventually, there will come a time of corporal justice for evil (Revelation 20).  God would not be good if evil was never vanquished forever. So there is a logic in justice that is right and good.

But until that time, because of Jesus Our Redeemer who satisfied the payment for our own death penalty, we live in an Age of Grace. Our Lord’s delay is not fear within himself—who is God that he should fear any man?  God’s delay in serving corporal justice is because of His character of mercy and love.  He longs for us to turn to Him in worship and obedience. Therefore, salvation is offered to us right now through Christ’s redemption.  God made a way of escape; not just for myself, but for others, too.

I think of these things: Who am I discounting because I think what they are getting in payment is justified by their actions?  Who do I need to “bear with” out of mercy and hope? Sanctification is an arduous process, both for myself and for those who are being sanctified around me.  Do I judge or do I support in prayer and patience and practical action? Am I moving toward those who test me most? Am I aware of the price others are paying to be merciful and patient in hope with me? My answers are disconcerting. But Christ offers hope

Father in heaven, how merciful you have been to me!  You have “cast my sins behind your back” and have endured my baby steps in coming to you in obedience.  How much I have to learn of your love to me!  Your Word tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that what we see on earth is only a fraction of the greater truth that encompasses the whole. All we see is not all that truly is. I must have Your eyes to see that our human adversary is often our friend in more ways than one.  I must have Your eyes to see the real Adversary at work in myself. I must rest my heart in Your wisdom that in Your timing and mercy all justice is tied up in Christ’s sacrifice.  There all sin was accounted for and justice was satisfied.  When I am tempted to become unsettled and tense in my relationships or in my heart in general at all I see around me, let me remember that you died for this.  You offer Your gift of salvation to those who have not even heard of it yet.  Make me into Your disciple at all costs so that all may worship You in spirit and in truth.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

© March 2019 by ReadPsalm119.com.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint (pilot), and Roger Youderian

[2] A list of the most prominent books follows:

  1. Through Gates of Splendor: The Martyrdom of American Missionaries in the Ecuador Jungle, Elisabeth Elliot
  2. The Savage, My Kinsmen, by Elisabeth Elliot
  3. The Journals of Jim Elliot, by Elisabeth Elliot
  4. Shadow of the AlmightyThe Life and Testament of Jim Elliot, by Elisabeth Elliot
  5. Jungle Pilot: The Gripping Story of the Life and Witness of Nate Saint, Martyred Missionary to Ecuador, by Russell T. Hitt with epilogue by Stephen E. Saint
  6. Dayuma: Life Under Waroani Spears, Ethel Emily Wallis
  7. Rachel Saint: A Star in the Jungle, by Janet and Geoff Benge
  8. Steve Saint: The Jungle Missionary, by
  9. End of the Spear, by Steve Saint (Nate’s son).  Please also see his website for VIDEOS and BLOG and UPDATES:  www.stevesaint.com
  10. Walking His Trail: Signs of God Along the Way, by Steve and Ginny Saint

These are added more recently and are of more anthropological interest:

  1. God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in Amazonian Ecuador, by Kathryn T. Long
  2. Trekking Through History: The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador, by Laura M. Rival.

[3] Through Gates of Splendor, Beyond the Gates of Splendor,and End of the Spear

[4] First labeled “Aucas” (“savages”) by the Quechua people nearby, the correct tribal name is spelled in multiple ways:  Waorani, Waodani, and Huaorani.  The pronunciation is the same: /hway or ahn’ ee/ trilling the ‘r’ so that it sounds like a ‘d’.  It is helpful to note that even Mencaye’s name and the Quechua tribal name are spelled in multiple ways. Conducting a search using any one of these spellings will nevertheless yield appropriate, cumulative results.

[5] Ecclesiastes 3:11.  Eternity in Their Hearts, by Don Richardson, Christianbooks.com

FURTHER RESOURCES:  WORSHIP WITH ME!

His Mercy Is More by Michael Sanchez, Songs from the Choir Room”, uploaded by Michael Sanchez Music, Jun 26, 2018, [YouTube; 3:40 min.].  Beautiful acoustic guitar rendition.

What love could remember no wrongs we have done

Omniscient, all-knowing, He counts not their sum

Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore

Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

 

Refrain:

Praise the Lord

His mercy is more

Stronger than darkness, new every morn

Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

 

What patience would wait as we constantly roam

What Father, so tender, is calling us home

He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor

Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

 

What riches of kindness he lavished on us

His blood was the payment, His life was the cost

We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford

Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

— Music and Words by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa

There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

1 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.

2 For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

—Frederich William Faber (1862)

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