Monday, September 24, 2007

Just deserts

Saw two movies recently: 3:10 to Yuma and The Brave One. And they both ended funny. Not funny "haha" but funny strange, from a storytelling point of view. The lead characters didn't seem to quite get their just deserts. The wrong people died or got hurt, or got away clean with what they had done.

For some reason it's reminding me this morning of the story in the Bible of Rahab, the whore of Jericho. She's the one who hid Joshua's two spies and snuck them out over the wall, thereby earning the right to live when the Israelites made those walls fall down and slaughtered the rest of the city. (Josh 2:1-6, Josh 6:16-25. Gotta love those Old Testament stories.) Paul writes about her later, "By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace" (Heb 11:31).

Okay, so, she's a whore. The Biblical writers state that fact without comment or judgment of any kind. They could have said, "Rahab the accountant," with the same emotion. The spies were more than willing to take her help, too, and to stay in her house with her family. In fact, she had a family. The Bible talks about how her acts saved "her father's household." So it seems to everyone around her, this was just her line of work, no biggie.

We're the ones who read into it a value judgment. The Bible writers apparently were comfortable with her deserving to live for her service to Joshua, no question. We're the ones who go, "But she was a whore!" (Or, we go, "Cool, she was a whore," depending.)

Mary Baker Eddy writes, "Let Truth uncover and destroy error in God's own way, and let human justice pattern the divine" (Science and Health).

Human justice. In movies and in brief Bible stories, we can focus on one or two single aspects about a person and come up with their just deserts. When things are clear from a storytelling point of view, we know what "should" happen to the characters.

But real people are seldom that clear cut. The cruelest criminals might love their dogs. The most righteous leaders might drink too much. We're a mixed bag, all of us. What are our just deserts?

One thing that did happen in both movies I mentioned above is that the lead characters changed. While the physical endings that they came to didn't seem to fit their "crimes," they each displayed a moral shift, changing from what they had been before to something new. They learned something.

This, to me, is the point. We slog our way thought the fires of experience, making mistakes along the way and perhaps being punished for them by circumstances or laws. The real "just deserts" are when we learn from our mistakes and therefore do not repeat them. We might learn by punishment; we might learn from revelation. Either way, we need to get there. We're not done with an experience until we learn from it.


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