The waters are so muddy. A dying prisoner. Bereaved relatives with emotional wounds still sore. Questions over evidence, trial and other perpetrators. A pariah state being brought in from the cold. Possible trade trade-offs. Celebrations and anger. Different views of what state justice requires. The list could go on. About the only thing agreed by everyone is that Pan Am Flight 103 fell out of the sky on 21 December 1988 with the loss of 270 lives from the plane and on the ground.
So there will never be agreement on whether the decision of the Scottish Justice Minister to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was correct. Anyway, much of the political posturing from inside and outside the UK is the usual exploitation of an issue for other ends.
In all of this storm we seem to have stopped thinking about what the Justice Minister said. "Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days." We may recognise someone’s inhuman beviour but not regard that as an excuse not to express our own humanity. Receiving compassion is not to be deserved or to be a right. It is something to be given because it is needed. Being compassionate is a strong thing to do not a weakness.
The Justice Minister’s words ought to appeal to all those who call themselves Christian – it is of the essence of the gospel that God’s love in Jesus Christ is for those who need it rather than deserve it. You have to be absolutely sure of your own righteousness to believe in a vengeful God rather than a compassionate God! From its earliest days Christianity has had to put up with being called weak because of the primacy of compassion over pay-back. So much so that some have developed their own forms of hard-man/hard-God faith - presumably because they do not feel strong enough to live with the perceived weakness of the gospel. Personally, I'm glad of a compassionate God.
Whether the decision to release the prisoner was expedient is a question that will go on being raised. But I want to affirm the strong principle of compassion and to applaud the Scottish Justice Minister for putting it so bluntly.