Though the heavens fall

National | Lessons for modern life from the U.S. Senate

Issue: "Fighting Potomac fever," Feb. 27, 1999

The ancient Roman statesmen had a saying, Fiat justitia ruat caelum-"Let justice be done, though the heavens fall." They didn't live up to it; for fear of what his enemies would say, Pontius Pilate handed over the Lamb of God for execution. Yet the pagans knew that their motto was true. Some of our statesmen are falling beneath even this pagan standard. It isn't just that they fail to live up to it, like the pagans; it's that they no longer believe in it. Listen to the words of Senator Robert Byrd in a television interview the week before the Senate acquitted the president of perjury and obstruction of justice. "The question is, does this rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors? I say yes. No doubt about it, in my mind. But the issue is, should the president be removed.... And the Constitution requires that if he is convicted.... There's no second chance. So it comes down to the question, to remove or not to remove? "... What he did was deplorable, inexcusable, a bad example. It undermined the system of justice when he gave false testimony under oath. He lied under oath. But I can close that chapter. I can work with the president." Some people said that the president should be acquitted because he was innocent, or because the case against him had not been proven. That was not Sen. Byrd's argument. Observe his logic. (1) The president is guilty. (2) There is no doubt that his deeds meet the constitutional standard for removal from office. (3) In fact they are inexcusable. But (4) I can excuse them. And what was his reason for excusing? One must, he said, consider the good of the country. Yes, what the president did was "deplorable, inexcusable, a bad example," but removing him from office would be bad for us. He had "undermined the system of justice," but upholding it would be even worse. We know, you see, because the polls tell us. The senator explained that, too. We have come upon evil times when we say that justice is not good for the country. Justice does not make the heavens fall-though even if it did it would have to be done anyway. No, what makes them fall is indifference. Sen. Byrd was quite right to condemn the president's bad example, but the president has been acquitted, so let us turn aside from his bad example to consider the Senate's. What lessons has the public been drawing from this affair? What principles for living has the vote to acquit reinforced?

  • Everyone lies about sex.
  • Everyone lies for his boss.
  • Everyone lies for his allies.
  • Everyone lies.
  • It's more important to say the right thing than to do it.
  • If you're clever enough you can get away with anything.
  • Anything people agree to is OK.
  • In fact, even if they don't agree to it, it's OK.
  • There is one rule for the strong and another for the weak.
  • Little lies are disgusting, but big ones show skill.
  • New wrong is always justified to cover up old wrong.
  • All statesmen are crooked, and it doesn't matter.
  • Exposing a crime is more serious than committing it.
  • Serving one's client means helping him not to come clean.
  • Slandering one's opponents is just good tactics.
  • Confession has nothing to do with making amends.
  • Apology goes hand in hand with excuses.
  • Justice doesn't matter unless people want it.
  • Only fools and weaklings take responsibility for wrongdoing.
  • Jurors may violate their oaths.
  • The ruler is above the law.
  • God is blind. No, God is not blind, for we are beginning to get the rulers we deserve. Yet He is also merciful, for we are not getting only that kind. Even now, for every mocker there is left to us a penitent, for every Robert Byrd a Henry Hyde. Long ago God gave another nation that had fallen into corruption a warning and a promise. "I will turn my hand against you," He said. "I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City." Though America is not the chosen nation, yet through the mercy revealed to all nations in Jesus Christ, perhaps we may apply the warning-and the promise-to ourselves.

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