Atticus Finch is known to generations as the hero of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. While his faith in the law as an instrument of justice is severely tested, throughout the book he holds his integrity. Eventually U.S. law would be extended to cover people of every colour, but for true justice a national change of heart would be needed, a change which would see the law not just as an instrument forcing us to do what we don’t want to do, but as a way to please God and better human life.
The Psalms often lament the apparent ability of the wicked to postpone or even escape their comeuppance, but here the law is celebrated as something deeper than the instrument of justice – it is a window into the heart of God. It is this because what we call ‘law’ is in the Old Testament torah, the lawful word of a God whose law is actually holy love. In this psalm the integrity of the seeker meets the integrity of the Searcher and is not disappointed.
The following poem reflects on Lee’s book, and the mocking bird as part of the creation which Psalm 19 celebrates in the opening verses before it speaks so movingly of the law of God.
It is a sin to kill a mocking bird.
Boo Radley and Tom Robinson affirm
this in their simple-hearted way
which melds with Atticus, and pleases God
who sits, a patient angler, dangling law
– a kind of bait for grace – from day to day
and year to year, in front of all these men
and women, burglars, upright, sinners, saints,
migrants, councillors, the straight and gay,
a lunch box by his side. The sun beats down,
the heavens back him up, but in the end
the mocking bird will have its legal say.
PRAY Lord, we pray for lawyers, for lawmakers, for law advisors. As Israel was taught to do, may we see law as your gift, given in grace to those whom you called out of Egypt, redeemed from bondage, brought into the glorious freedom of your children. Like those who wrote their psalms, may we love your law, take delight in it, make it part of us. And like Atticus Finch, may we have the courage to see it applied fairly to all.
Raise up good leaders and good lawyers for church and nation, we pray. Amen.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.