Is Fiona Onasanya suffering like Jesus? Not really

You may have come across this story in the news. Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice by lying to police in order to avoid a speeding ticket. But it’s not so much her lies that have caught the headlines but what she had to say about it.

The Guardian report that Labour colleagues were waiting to hear from Onasanya regarding her plans for the future. If MPs are automatically disqualified from holding their seat if they receive a sentence longer than a year in prison. But in a message to colleagues on Whatsapp, Onasanya said the following:

As many of you are already aware, due to widespread media coverage, I was found guilty of perverting the course of justice. Although I vigorously maintained my innocence, the jury has decided that I am guilty.

I campaigned for justice and for the interests of ordinary people throughout my entire working life to date, but it is this which has made both national and international press. The first jury was dismissed having failed to reach a decision last month but the second jury reached their conclusion within days.

Regardless of what you believe or suspect, the fact remains that I, Fiona, sought to be the choice and voice of change – but this may now take a different path. More than ever before, I am asking that you commit time in prayer for my family.

In times like these, the natural inclination of believers is to ask God: why? I personally do not, because in my experience the answers are usually far above and beyond my reach. What I do know is that I am in good biblical company, along with Joseph, Moses, Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, who were each found guilty by the courts of their day.

While God did not save them from a guilty verdict, he did save them in it and ensured that their greatest days of impact were on the other side of a guilty verdict. Of course this is equally true of Christ, who was accused and convicted by the courts of his day and yet this was not his end but rather the beginning of the next chapter in his story.

Please pray that my family will find peace and strength in this perilous time through this guilty verdict.

The Times

Now, only a fool would suggest that juries never get things wrong, but if we are to have any confidence in the justice system at all, we have to take a guilty verdict for what it is. We also have to weigh it alongside the fact that Onasanya’s brother – with whom she was accused of colluding – himself admitted to perverting the course of justice by lying about speeding on three separate occasions, including this incident. We also have to weigh the jury’s verdict alongside the fact that judges have it within their power to reflect poor decisions in their sentencing. Sentencing is due to happen next month but it seems likely a jail term is coming. Notwithstanding that one doesn’t know all the facts, nor was present at the trial, the evidence we have doesn’t appear to back up Onasanya’s claim to innocence.

But it is particularly her comparison of herself to Jesus (or so the mainstream media have inferred), that has led to the headlines. They find it incredible that (in their view) somebody might compare themselves to Christ. But it bears saying that scripture is full of the sorts of those sorts of comparisons. Jesus himself, when speaking about suffering and persecution, is clear that his followers will go through the same. Indeed, the apostles counted their sufferings a joy because, as far as they were concerned, they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ. Indeed, they saw it as a means by which they were becoming more like Christ. They were, genuinely, comparing their suffering to Christ’s suffering and considering themselves as partakers in Christ’s sufferings. So the idea of comparing oneself to Christ (or other Biblical characters) in our suffering has warrant.

The question is whether Onasanya is right to draw the comparison in this case. Take, for instance, her comparison to Daniel. Daniel was (rightly) found guilty of a law that should never have stood. Onasanya hasn’t been rightly convicted of a morally questionable law, but convicted according to an entirely legitimate law. Or consider the comparison to Joseph. Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit because he was accused by somebody more powerful than himself. Onasanya is herself relatively powerful and hasn’t been convicted by the unjust accusation of somebody who rules over her.

But what has most exercised the papers is her comparison to Christ. But Jesus was pronounced innocent by Pontius Pilate, who convicted him out of expedience rather than any certainty of his guilt. Onasanya (at least, at this point) hasn’t been declared innocent by anybody. Likewise, Jesus was convicted at a show trial by those who actively wanted him dead. Onasanya has been convicted by a jury who we have no reason to believe are biased against her nor in a trial that lacks legitimacy. Jesus faced false accusations from those who had a vested interest in his death, nobody accusing Onasanya has a vested interest in her conviction. The comparison is, shall we say, less than stark.

Interestingly, Onasanya says she refuses to ask God ‘why’ because the answers are ‘far above and beyond my reach.’ But the answer does rather seem to be staring her in the face. Unlike Christ, she is guilty. Unlike Christ, she has lied. This is not the result of fatalistic forces conspiring against her, it is the result of her own sin. The ‘why’ is patently obvious: she broke the law and is now facing the consequences.

And it is here that all comparison to Christ and his sufferings really fade away. For the one who knew no sin was found guilty. He was pierced for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Onasanya, by contrast, is bearing the consequences for her own transgressions. Suffering for your own sin is, in fact, the antithesis of what Christ achieved for his people.

The answer that lies in Christ is not to compare ourselves to him. Rather it is to acknowledge and confess our sin, recognising that we are guilty, and seeking the forgiveness that only he can offer in his perfect life and death on behalf of those who believe in him. It is true that believers may share in Christ’s sufferings, but we do not share in his suffering when we are simply bearing the consequences for our own sin. We share in his suffering when we are reproached for his name’s sake. And we are his only when we have first repented of our sin and put our trust in him.

As John says, ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 Jn 1:9). It is only when we are in him that we might be made like him and that starts not with sidestepping our guilt and making undue comparisons, but confessing our sin, repenting of it and seeking forgiveness in him.