Just Reparation
By Anthony Casperson

The reptilian alien assassin asks for help to save his son.

Now before you refuse, there are three things to remember. First, Commander Shepard (the main character that the player controls in the game Mass Effect 2) has asked this person, named Thane, to join the team on a dangerous mission because his skills will be useful there. Second, he’s a repentant assassin who has ceased his previous ways and seeks peace in the little time he has left before dying to a type of lung disease. And third, Thane’s son, Kolyat, has begun to walk the same path of death and destruction as his father.

This is the set up of Thane’s loyalty mission, called “Sins of the Father.” Through the events that follow, Shepard does their best to stop Kolyat from completing his first assassination.

And upon mission success, the player’s faced with a choice of how to deal with the ramifications of the attempted murder. See, an officer of the security detail on the space station knows what almost happened and asks for recommendation of what to do with Kolyat.

The Paragon (read, Lawful) choice recommends community service for the young alien. A wrist slap considering Kolyat did conspire to end the life of another sapient creature. On the other hand, the Renegade (Chaotic) option kinda just shrugs and recommends that the station’s security could use someone with Kolyat’s skills. Quite the job application for a security officer.

If you look at both of those possible choices, you might notice that neither of them really offers equivalent punishment for the attempt. That only comes if you choose neither rewarded option. Thane’s son will then get sent to serve time for the attack and near murder. But look closely at this, the game’s mechanics (and the community that discusses Mass Effect 2) seem to indicate that the fair punishment for the crime is the worst option.

And this is proven further as the final cutscene for the mission shows the security officer mention to Shepard that several years-old unsolved murders had been reported to be committed by a person of similar ancestry. Their kinda throwing suspicion at Thane. But the game doesn’t even give a choice here, sweeping his successful assassinations from the past under a rug. After all, he’s changed. So, why should he have to pay for repented sins of the past?

I bring this up because I find it odd that a vast majority of people today would consider the best option for justice in this fictional situation to be forgiveness and the possibility of change. Especially when, in our reality, the concepts of generational guilt and reparations are called justice by a number of individuals.

What’s the difference? Why don’t we consider Kolyat’s imprisonment the best choice? And why not even bring up the thought that since Thane deserves punishment for his own crimes, but will die soon because of the lung disease, it might actually be the most just for his son to pay for those crimes too?

Now, I’m not suggesting that the game’s creators should’ve given us that option in the remastered edition. But it does make me think about real justice. And ask what the truly just response is to situations like these.

Such thoughts invaded my thought processes as I read through Ezekiel 18 earlier this week.

God, through the prophet, speaks to a common proverb of that time, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” It’s a perfect parallel to our proverb “The sins of the father are visited upon their sons” that the mission in Mass Effect 2 references. We take it to mean that ramifications of previous generations will effect later generations.

In a sense, this is true. There will always be consequences for the selfishness and evil which a person does that’ll extend beyond them and into future generations. Our dealing with sin and death on account of the rebellion of Adam and Eve proves that.

However, when the consequences begin to focus more on punitive actions and repayment for the evils of the past, that’s when God calls a foul. And it’s what he speaks about in this part of Ezekiel.

In God’s offer of correction against the proverb, he says that the one who sins will die. Because the context of the passage views the destruction of Jerusalem and the death of all but a few on account of famine, the sword, and pestilence, “death” is used as a general term for “just punishment.” The reparations due when the sin’s bill arrives.

The one who performed the unjust deed will be the only one responsible for making payment. Even though ramification of the action will continue after them, the punishment is only on their shoulders.

God gives a generational example in the verses following. Let’s say there’s a man who acts with real uprightness. He worships God alone. His sexual activities align with the standards set in the bible. There’s not an oppressive bone in his body. The guy never defaults on a loan. He’s never stolen a penny. Even giving money away in aid to those in poverty. And justice fills every action of his.

Sounds too good to be true, but it is a hypothetical after all.

Alright, so there’s this man. But he fathers a son who is a violent, murderous rapist. This second generation person steals for themselves, regardless of whom they’ll hurt in the process, even stealing the little that the destitute have. This guy follows whatever god suits him in the moment and performs every abominable action in their names. His evils know no bounds.

The rewards of the previous generation don’t come upon him. Nor do the sins of the second generation get imbued back into the past. No, his punishment will be his own.

And the payment won’t continue after him either.

God continues his example by suggesting that the evil man fathers his own son. But this third generation sees the evil his father did and rejects it. He doesn’t perform any of the terribly vile actions that his father did. He acts like the upright grandfather instead. In this case, God says that no punishment should be placed on him.

And then in Ezekiel 18:19, God gives voice to the people’s outrage at his suggestion. “Why shouldn’t the son suffer for the sin of the father?” They’d think that justice would be served rightly if punishment for the evil was multigenerational even though the actions being punished were not.

But God says otherwise.

As a mater of fact, he pushes it further by saying that if a person has performed many wicked things, but truly changes their ways, the punishment is no longer required. This is because God finds no pleasure in punishing those who rebel against him. He’d rather they repent and find life with him.

He knows that the people to whom he speaks will ask how such a perspective is fair. A person who did such selfish evil shouldn’t be able to repent and receive no punishment for it, they’d say.

But God says that justice truly happens when a person’s misdeeds are paid only by the one who performed them, unless they should fully turn away from those evils and embrace God’s goodness.

This is true justice and its method of reparation.

So, maybe a video game’s sense of justice toward and alien assassin is more godly than the terms put forward by certain individuals in our own reality. And that should give us pause to reconsider our understanding of justice.