A case here in Starkville within the last couple of months continues to trouble me. A local businesswoman was out on a two-lane rural highway riding her bike with a friend, who was next to the shoulder. They were on a stretch of road with an unobstructed view for drivers. Nevertheless, the biker was struck by a car, flipped in the air, then run over by the driver as she (the driver) attempted to flee the scene. The biker was severely injured and is now in a rehab facility.

Investigation and interviews with witnesses failed to find cause to charge the driver, who may have been talking on her cell at the time she struck the biker, with any crime under Mississippi law. This, despite public outcry and outrage. Instead, if any damages are collected and punishment meted out, a personal injury lawsuit will have to be filed and won by the biker’s husband.

A local TV station asked people on the street whether they thought the driver should be charged with a crime. One comment has stuck with me, because of the utter ignorance and moral ineptitude displayed by the speaker. “It was an accident. I think [the driver] should be forgiven and not charged.”

Such a comment confuses justice and forgiveness. Someone can be forgiven by you or me or God and still be responsible for the consequences of their wrong actions. Does forgiveness mean that a person is no longer morally or ethically accountable? Should a perpetrator of a wrong not be required to make any kind of restitution or even be inconvenienced? Is this what “forgiveness” means?

I think not. For example, I may be forgiven by you for my hurtful comment, but it still lives in your memory, and our relationship is damaged. If I value you, I must work hard then to heal, if possible, the brokenness. It’s not up to you; it’s up to me. I must deal with the consequences of my wrong.

It makes me wonder what sort of cheap grace is being taught in churches when someone thinks forgiveness costs us nothing and should cost nothing even for someone who ruined another person’s life and nearly took it away. Bonhoeffer said: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” On the other hand, costly grace is “the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a [person] must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ” (The Cost of Discipleship; emphasis mine).

God save us from moral ineptitude and grant us clear vision to know how to be both loving and just, demanding and forgiving, and the courage to act on our convictions.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham