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RANDY HUFF: OJ, Tevye and Dropping The Stones

I remember where I was. No, I’m not old enough to remember the assassination of JFK, but I do have a thin remembrance of a moon landing and of listening to the results of the 1976 election on a little transistor radio well past bedtime. I remember when Hinkley shot Reagan and I watched my sister cry. And when I remember the Challenger I always feel the pain of being close enough to see the smoke trail in the distant blue sky.

But this day’s ‘I remember’ found me in a farm store in Salem, Illinois, somewhere in the mid-90’s, and I heard on the radio that OJ Simpson had been acquitted.

I am not sure all it might mean that I remember such a thing. I was about 30, politically interested, serious enough, I suppose, but an average-American in most respects. There was the celebrity aspect of course. I enjoyed football a great deal and though I had never watched OJ play, I was taken with his obvious skill as well as the charming smile he flashed in various commercials.

As I read the news of OJ’s death all of that came back in force. The trial gripped the nation. OJ’s ex-wife and her boyfriend had been stabbed to death on an LA street. Based on the evidence presented, everyone wondered if the former football star might be guilty but due process is a blessed right and in due time the jury (rightly or wrongly) found him innocent of the crime. The nation was divided on the question though, and not unlike the Hiss-Chambers trial of a previous generation, I came to believe most felt at least a sense of un-settledness.

The news of Simpson’s death brought many things to mind, some not to be spoken. We live in a world fractured in ways that are both deceptive and bold and if we imagine we are immune we will suffer the effects all the more.

The truth is captured in a well-known gospel story about throwing stones. There was a crime, with witnesses no less, and ample accusers ready to serve as judge, jury and executioner. Jesus drew near the accused in her moment of doom and stopped the uproar with just a few simple words: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

As the story has it, the accusers dropped their stones and wandered away. There was Jesus’s admonition to the woman to avoid sin going forward and she went home alive and free.

But this isn’t the last word. All relational affronts must be dealt with, and murder most of all. Justice has to be served in some human way and all systems find themselves somewhere on the continuum from the vigilante wild-West to heaven itself.

Except heaven is no option here below, so we settle for the best we can get.

On this question I often remember a line in the extraordinary film and musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” The men of the village are discussing some public matter of justice. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!” shouts the town newsman.

Tevye replies, “Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.”

As much as I love Fiddler, I think Tevye got it wrong. “Eye for an eye” leaves everyone blind ONLY IF there is no system of justice to step in and stop the cycle. If I wrong you, the authorities must hold me to account so you or your relatives do not have to. It’s the idea of blind-folded lady justice, someone outside of us within a system we dare to trust. And the collective polity says we agree to live with the results, agree or not.

The courts acquitted OJ and the murderer was never found. The murder victims and their families have no justice and we are all worse off for that. Many still think OJ was guilty, but we will never know with absolute certainty. The courts seldom get everything right, but it is the best we have in this fallen world.

In the mean-time I grieve: for the loss of innocence, for the loss of a broken man, for a justice system vulnerable and imperfect. And I feel the weight of the stones I have been all too ready to take up. OJ’s death helps me remember again that an earthly judge dealt with him, his Maker will do all things right, and I am neither of them.

So I feel the pain of those times and once again, I drop the stones and walk away – to love and learn how to live justly in this wonderful, but broken, world.

Randy Huff

Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.

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