George Grant (1918-1988) is considered by many to be one of the most significant Canadian public intellectuals in the latter half of the 20th century---Grant was also a High Tory of the highest calibre. Grant was a prolific writer and many have commented upon his wide ranging renaissance breadth. There has, of yet, been no essays on Grant and Amnesty International and Grant and Edward Said.
Amnesty International published The First Torturer’s Trial in 1975. Grant did a review of the book in the Globe and Mail (June 14 1977).
The focus and reason for the publication of The First Torturer’s Trial was the trial in Greece in 1975 of 32 Greek police officers and military men who had tortured opponents in the junta from 1967-1974. The junta finally collapsed because of the courageous work of Archbishop Makarios (1913-1977) in Cyprus who had been elected as president in 1959, 1968 and 1973. Grant did a sustained commentary on the report, and, in many ways, Grant argued torture was the crudest form of the will to power of ideologues.
There are those on the political right that argue that it is the left that uses torture to inflict their will and way, and the left has argued that the right often uses torture to silence opposition. There can be no doubt that both totalitarian and authoritarian states of the left and right often use their wills to end meaningful civic and civil dialogue. Grant’s meditation on The First Torturer’s Trial brings this obstinate fact to the fore again and again.
Hope Makes a Difference: Reading for Dominant Themes, Argument, and Theology in Lamentations
The five poems of Lamentations are some of the most graphic and evocative passages in the Old Testament, which seem to raise more questions than they answer. Who wrote it? When? Why? Even these are disputed, although it is commonly agreed that the event described is the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586BCE.1 Beyond these are deeper questions: How can such suffering be tolerated? How can a just God allow it? These are the real issues at stake in a book that is not only about the fall of a city, but about the privileges and consequences of a covenantal relationship with YHWH God.
Poems about suffering
In his commentary, Provan asserts, "Perhaps the most immediately noticeable feature of the poems in the book of Lamentations ... is their alphabetic nature."2 However, surely the most immediately noticeable feature is the pain.3 Written as laments,4 they are filled with suffering of every kind: grief, despair, abandonment, guilt, desolation, anger. The descriptions of torment and starvation are horrifyingly vivid, and the need to explain what has happened leaps off the page. Nevertheless, Provan is correct in the sense that the first step towards understanding these laments is to examine their acrostic composition.
1. For example, see Delbert R. Hillers, Lamentations: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven: First Yale University Press, 2009), 9-10; or David M. Carr, An Introduction to the Old Testament: Sacred Texts and Imperial Contexts of the Hebrew Bible (Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, 2010), 171. One notable exception is Iain Provan, who insists that insufficient information exists to form any conclusion. Iain Provan, The New Century Bible Commentary: Lamentations (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 11-15. 2. Provan, Lamentations, 4. 3. Provan's assertion specifically refers to readers of the Hebrew text, but the same point stands. 4. Tremper Longman III and Raymond B Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007), 345.
The question of how to relate to society around us has been an enduring challenge for the Church; Docetism and exclusivism have been common postures. It is difficult it seems to relate to the world as God did in loving the world so much that he intervened with sacrificial love. Of course as human beings we are limited in our creaturely capacity to establish the absolute truth of life around us because we are ourselves a part of that very reality, its environment, culture, language, and dominant thought forms that inform our actions. Especially impressionable are our earliest, years and the mental constructions (schemata) learned in our early family life and in our community of origin. It is a mistake to think that as an adult we can objectively, quickly, transcend the truth of our life and its social formation influenced by the powers that be in our lives simply from a literal read of scripture. We read the scriptures through lens of our subjectivities. With contemplative perception and sensitivity to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit we humbly progress and develop insight into our schematic life of developmental years and understand the biases, twists, and turns of our own cosmology to the extent that we can. One challenge is that of understanding the truth of Justice, of its “worldliness” and of its eternal goodness. In our world of change and generational disconnects, each generation again will need to reflect on accepted public truths, internalize and take ownership of its own worldview; to be world affirming and yet not conformed to this world, specifically in terms of doing justice.
Reciprocity and suffering
Probably most of us learned as children, and children learn what they live, that bad behaviour is reciprocated with punishment, and if you are “good,” you might get rewarded…”one good deed deserves another,” It is said. Themes of social (social exchange theory)l and juridical reciprocity play out through life in our culture and in the forms institutional justice has taken. Justice as reciprocity is virtually wired into our genes. “That’s just the way it is”, I was told when young, “don’t ask so many questions.” Prisoners will easily confess as truism, “You do the crime, you do the time.” It has become to be perceived as a universal law, as gospel truth. The world universally manifests a dominant belief in justice as reciprocity and that this reciprocity code is God’s design for justice in this life. Modern actuarial, consumerist, models of life, see public justice as reciprocity primarily through primitive levels of moral development as well as reciprocity in mathematical terms of simply “what’s in it for me In terms of risk.”
Increasingly, my experience in life, with a close eye on God’s revelation, gave the lie to the assumption that this is a just world created by God to be governed by the code of reciprocity. Bad things do happen to good people, and often the evil and powerful flourish in this world.
The Story of Jonah: Dare we hate those whom God loves?
The story of Jonah presents a quandary. The history of Nineveh and the Assyrians is well known and documented. The Assyrians left their own records and the nations around them had much to say of them. They were hated by all and proud of it.
Nineveh, however, never accepted the God of Israel and certainly never repented "in sackcloth and ashes." So what is the story of Jonah about?
This story unfolds at a time when Judah and Israel had become particularist. They were turned in on themselves and not even attempting to engage other nations with the worship of the true and living God. Indeed, the population of the two kingdoms had not been fully converted and they were much in need of repentance.
As the story opens, God has commanded Jonah the son of Amittai to go up to the great city of Nineveh and preach repentance to them. Remember that Nineveh was the capital of the savage and brutal Assyrian kingdom. Jonah does not want to go. Instead, he boards a ship sailing to Tarshish (Spain). In the ancient world, Tarshish, at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea, was at "the other end of the earth." Was Jonah afraid, or just filled with hatred of the Assyrians? Perhaps both. We all know the story. Jonah is cast overboard and swallowed by a "great fish." He is carried back to Palestine and regurgitated by the fish on the third day. Thereupon, he yields and goes up to Nineveh. He suffers several things largely because of his attitude. It appears to us that Jonah did not want Nineveh to repent, but rather wanted them to be punished for their beastly brutality. Nevertheless, the city does repent.
We said before, we know that the Assyrians never accepted the God of Israel, and never showed any signs of repentance. So what was the story about? Just this: God commanded Jonah to go to the most hated people on the face of the earth and tell them that God loves them, and will receive them with an open heart if they will but turn to Him.
Is this not a prophecy about the Christ, the Messiah? Is this not also a "sign of the prophet Jonah," along with his third day "resurrection" from the great fish? Does not Christ send his disciples to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel, baptising them in the name of the Godhead?
What about us? What does this story have to say to each of us? Simply this: we are prone to want to see our enemies suffer and be punished. God, on the other hand, "desires not the death of sinners, but that they should turn from their sins and live." Ultimately, the teaching is simple. The person that we hate is someone that our Master loves and shed His blood for.