Justice, Mercy, and Humility

Seek Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.

I have seen these sentiments thrown around a lot recently. Loudly. Boldly. Publicly. Usually to support one cause or another.

But the longer I sit with these ideals, the more inclined I am to fall on my knees than to parade my opinions in a public forum.

These concepts come from Micah 6:8.* They are commonly understood to be a formula of sorts for pleasing to God. A + B + C = a godly life. But could there be an error in our calculations?

Justice and mercy, if you really think about it, are opposite ends of the same spectrum. To mete out full justice one cannot give way to mercy. In order to offer mercy, justice must be tempered or set aside. It would appear, then, that total justice and pure mercy are impossible to pursue simultaneously. At best we will come up with some sort of compromise, in which neither is completely attained.

Could it be that the calling to pursue both justice and mercy is an impossible task, humanly speaking, meant show us how small, flawed, and insufficient we are, and bring us to our knees? In other words, to make us humble?

Only God can truly execute justice and mercy simultaneously—and yet even His perfect solutions could be criticized depending on one’s perspective. Take a look at the cross.

One might say that the cross was an instrument of absolute mercy, making it possible for those who deserved death to be pardoned of their guilt and given a clean record. And he would be correct.

Another could see in the cross an absence of mercy, pointing out that Jesus paid the ultimate price for the debt of others, dying a cruel, agonizing death even though He begged to be delivered from such a fate. And she would be stating fact.

Some might argue that absolute justice was carried out on the cross. God’s righteous requirements were perfectly satisfied as every last sin was condemned and punished. And that is true.

Others could say the cross was a great miscarriage of justice, as an innocent man, undeserving of any condemnation, was tried and tortured for things He had not done—and they would also be right.

None of us could have conceived of or carried out the cross. In fact, most of us with a sense of justice and heart for mercy would probably have done all we could have to keep the cross from happening. And yet it was God’s perfect plan.

God’s ways are not ours. We are fallen and we are fallible and we can only ever see our small part of the big picture. Anyone who is honest with him- or herself must bow in absolute humility under the impossibility of truly upholding both justice and mercy.

So what is the solution? Seek Jesus. Love Jesus. Make walking with Him intimately the top priority as well as the ultimate purpose of our lives. Listen. Ask. Be still with Him.

And only then move in this broken world as He leads and convicts—with deep humility—always remembering that another, who also passionately loves Jesus and is equally committed to pursuing justice and mercy, might see things in a totally opposite way. And they could still be right.

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*The Hebrew word translated “mercy” or “kindness” is hesed and carries far more breadth and depth of meaning than our translations convey. While this verse itself deserves further study, I am dealing in this essay with the concepts as popularly used and understood today.

Listen with the Ears of God

Argh. Having trouble getting a full post written. Here’s a quote to tide you over…

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.