Virtual Voices
Joseph Robert Patterson (center) leaves the Lincoln County Courthouse after a hearing in Canton, S.D., last Friday.
Associated Press/Photo by Joe Ahlquist (Argus Leader)
Joseph Robert Patterson (center) leaves the Lincoln County Courthouse after a hearing in Canton, S.D., last Friday.

God’s justice in the tragic death of a child

Crime

Late last week the story broke about a 2-year-old boy, Tyrese Robert Doohen, being admitted to a South Dakota Hospital with severe head trauma consistent with being beaten. He was the son of Adrian Peterson, the star running back for the Minnesota Vikings and my favorite player in the National Football League. Tyrese lived with his mother and her boyfriend, Joseph Robert Patterson, and Patterson has been charged with multiple counts of assault and battery for the beating. The child’s mother was not charged. Within hours of the story breaking it was confirmed that the little Tyrese had died.

I read stories like this one all too often. I am not numb to them, but neither do they break me every time. The facts of this story are no different than those of many others, and it isn’t more tragic just because the little boy had a famous father. But that’s why it connected with me. I am a father, and I am a Vikings fan. Those two facts were enough to slip this story past my defenses and jam it up under my ribs so hard my heart actually hurt.

I hurt for Peterson and for the boy’s mother. I hurt because this child’s death made me think about what it would mean to lose one of my children. But the pain and anger was at a deeper level, too, the visceral, unspeakable level where words don’t do justice and can’t express the sheer wrongness of a thing. At that level the closest thing to a complete thought was a rolling, repetitive, “It’s not supposed to be this way.” Nothing displays the evil of sin like someone hurting a helpless child. And the revulsion toward that evil is not communicable in sentences fit for human ears.

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How then should we respond to such tragedies? My first reaction is to see perpetrators of child abuse hurt, beaten, and broken. They deserve that much and worse. But even as I think this, I know it solves nothing and offers no satisfaction. Vengeance doesn’t abate anger or pain. It offers no magic pill to heal a hurt and soothe a soul.

Maybe forgiveness is in order. Dare we ask the people closest to the child to forgive? That may be reasonable down the road, but so soon after a tragedy? I do not know. I know forgiveness is right, but I know evil needs to face justice. And so I am glad that the two are not mutually exclusive. They can and must exist hand in hand, whatever that looks like.

More satisfactory—no, not satisfactory—more solid and anchoring is the knowledge that God hates the harming of innocents and wields the sword of judgment. Only He is wise enough to sort out such a mess and only He is expansive enough in character to offer both what mercy and what vengeance is needed. I am glad for that because without Him such tragedies would have no right answers.

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