We saw last week in Micah 6:8 that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. One particularly thorny aspect of justice is the question of unintended consequences. When someone intentionally commits a crime, whether it is premeditated or not, we can see how justice is served, but what about when someone acts without an intention of committing a crime and there are disastrous consequence. What then?
The city was under an exceptional drought since November the previous year, and the wooden buildings were tinder-dry after the long hot summer. No one knows exactly how it started, but something caught alight downstairs in the bakery portion of the building. Perhaps the fire wasn’t banked properly, or something combustible was left to close to the smoldering embers. Whatever it was, a little after midnight on Sunda,y September 2, 1666, a fire broke out at Thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane, London.
“The family was trapped upstairs, but managed to climb from an upstairs window to the house next door, except for a maidservant who was too frightened to try, and became the first victim of the Great London fire. The neighbors tried to help douse the fire; after an hour the parish constables arrived and judged that the adjoining houses had better be demolished to prevent further spread. The householders protested, and the Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Bloodworth, who alone had the authority to override their wishes, was summoned. When Bloodworth arrived, the flames were consuming the adjoining houses and creeping towards the paper warehouses and flammable stores on the riverfront. The more experienced firemen were clamoring for demolition, but Bloodworth refused on the grounds that most premises were rented and the owners could not be found. He panicked when faced with a sudden emergency and when pressed made the oft-quoted remark regarding the fire, “Pish! A woman could piss it out”, and left” reportedly going back to bed. That decision was disastrous for the rest of London. The high winds fanned the flames and the fire burned for three more days consuming 80% of the city. In the riverside district, the fire reached such an intensity that it melted the imported steel lying along the wharves (melting point between (2,300 F) and (2,700 F). The Great Fire of London… gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman city wall…. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants… The social and economic problems created by the disaster were overwhelming.”
It destroyed more than $1 billion (by a 2005 valuation) in property, but it could have been stopped had the Lord Mayor made the right decision. There were disastrous consequences, but was a crime committed? What would justice demand? Turn to Exodus 21, as we continue our series, True Law is God’s Law.
Now while this passage deals with punishments related to violent animals and their owners, the principles of justice revealed here are crucial for establishing justice in any arena where unintended consequences are being considered. Violent Animals – Exodus 21:28-32 “If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him. Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him. If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.”
Following the world-wide flood, as Noah and his family came off the ark, God gave them these commands by which He established human civil government, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Genesis 9:5-6
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