The eighth and final series of Spiral has recently aired in the UK, and we are working our way through the back catalogue of this French (original, French, title Engrenages) police and legal procedural drama on BBC iplayer. It is described as ‘disturbing,’ on account of the behaviour of the police and lawyers often being indistinguishable from that of the criminals—all interlocked in a ‘spiral of violence’—but this is the very thing that makes it so interesting. Justice is not black and white, but includes many shades of grey.
It might surprise you to hear a vicar make such a claim, but it should not. Any honest reading of the Bible must recognise that even the most fundamental of laws require interpretation. Take, for example, the command not to bear false witness against your neighbour. To uphold this command, there are times when one is surely compelled to lie, to perjure oneself, to subvert the course of in/justice in order to protect another’s life.
In the centuries between the history recounted by the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament and the New Testament, the Jewish community developed a complex legal system built on the Law given through Moses, including different and at times competing schools of interpretation. Christians are often quick to dismiss all this out of hand as legalism, but such a response verges on and may trespass into anti-Semitism. It is foolish, because English law (among others) is to a significant extent built on biblical law. It is foolish, also, because every community involves different schools of interpretation. Jesus himself does not dismiss the Law of Moses, or even the Oral Tradition per se, but stands in a long line of prophetic voices that call out those who confuse legal application with legal principle; those who overly worry about legal procedure; and those who hide behind the law to exploit others. And the apostle Paul does not so much concern himself with opposing Jewish self-understandings of the law, as addressing tensions between members of the Christian sect of Jewish and of Gentile background, as to the grounds on which Gentiles are included. Law, including moral law, is not static but dynamic.
To return to Spiral/Engrenages: if actions do not distinguish those operating ‘on the side of the law’ from those operating ‘outside the law,’ what does? In part, motive, and conscience, however murky; and in part the key theme of (the possibility of) being redeemed, of being freed from compulsive or addictive behaviour, to step into a freer life. The characters on the side of the law are painfully aware of their weakness, but—even if they cannot bear to admit to their (ironically, clearly visible) vulnerability before others—long for redemption, for themselves…and for the redemption of those who struggle alongside them, often wrestling, in a spiral not so much of violence as of hope. Even as character after character pre-emptively presses the self-destruct button, hope nonetheless endures, defiant.
At the end of the day, redemption cannot be found in ‘righteousness according to the law’ (nor in any other honour code) but is found in acceptance—acceptance within an adoptive family of others, and acceptance of ourselves. Redemption is the bloodied labour of self-sacrificial love.