Pistorius sentence: Too lenient? Too harsh? Why do you even care?

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

So, Oscar: that's that.

After the intricate, painful, fascinating, appalling ritual had been played out, with the media, the legal system, the families and the onlookers all dancing their allotted parts, now we all know: it's a five-year prison sentence. Enough people think you got off too lightly for killing Reeva and enough think you shouldn't be in prison at all for us to think the judge probably got it right. So: do your time, think on your sins, and come out a better person after 10 months, or two years, or however long you serve.

But enough of Oscar. He has had far too much of our attention. He is, of course, an exceptional man. But that's the point: his trial was exceptional too. The time devoted to it, the resources, the quality of the legal advice, the intense interest displayed by the watching world: it was all exceptional.

It is the exception, though, that proves the rule. If you think about it, 'prove' means 'test'. What does the exception say about the robustness of the rule, its universal applicability, its truth? What does Oscar Pistorius' trial say about guns and guilt, life and death – in South Africa and everywhere else?

At one level the answer is painfully obvious. His exceptionalism meant that he had money and resources beyond the dreams of most people. Anyone who thinks that a young man from Soweto or Tembisa acused of a similar crime would have received anything like the quality of defence Pistorius did is to be envied for their child-like faith. An article for the Daily Maverick says that the country's justice system is "broken beyond imagination": ordinary South African citizens "battle a dysfunctional court system where bail is denied for no apparent reason; transcripts go missing, where lengthy delays put presumed innocent suspects behind bars for years, where overworked state-funded lawyers do not bother to question glaring inconsistencies, shoddy evidence and lying police officers. Inmates with medical conditions struggle to access medication, medical staff and legal relief for their conditions."

The question, then, is: why do we have an opinion about Pistorius, but we don't have an opinion about that? Why is it so important for South Africa that in the eyes of the world justice for Pistorius is seen to be done, when in hundreds or thousands of other cases, it is clearly not?

And here Christians are challenged about something that makes us subtly complicit in a fundamentally worldly narrative: it's the temptation to buy into the notion that some people are worth more than others. Some lives are more significant. Some stories are just better.

In Pistorius' case, all the elements of a classic tragedy are there. It's Romeo and Juliet, the golden boy killing the golden girl in a tragic misunderstanding. But think of it this way: if, instead of it being Reeva Steenkamp behind the bathroom door, it really had been an 'intruder' – we are meant, in Pistorius' defence narrative, to imagine a young black man, semi-feral, armed with a pistol or a machete, perhaps high on some illegal substance – if it had been this intruder whom Pistorius shot, would we still be talking about it? Would we, indeed, feel anything other than a vague sense of guilty approval? Of course not: and there's the soft hiss of the serpent.

Rather than taking sides over Pistorius – rather, indeed, than showing any undue interest in him at all – let's remember the Pistoriuses who don't happen to be rich, white and famous. And yes, South Africa's prison and legal systems might be broken beyond imagination, but you don't have to go to Africa to be outraged: a UK news story today warns of a "rapid deterioration in prison safety in England and Wales, with a 69 per cent rise in self-inflicted deaths. And get this: the Ministry of Justice said there was no evidence linking the rise in suicides to government policy. With respect, if increasing numbers of prisoners feel that their lives are no longer worth living, it is someone's fault, and government's role in rehabilitating prisoners and resourcing prisons puts it squarely in the dock.

Back to those classic tragedies. There are actors known as 'spear carriers' – extras, we might say – whose only role is to stand around holding spears, or guns, or machetes, as part of the stage or film scenery. Their function is to be killed by the hero; they are there to highlight his heroism. They have no life or identity beyond that. If the corpse behind the bathroom door had been a spear carrier, it wouldn't have mattered. Because it was Reeva Steenkamp, it did.

But in God's story there are no spear carriers. Everyone has a name and a story of their own.

Let Pistorius go. There are other people just as important to worry about.