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.

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Mercy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, just a week or so after my previous post, I find myself needing to revisit my thoughts on mercy. Revisit and revise.

The realization struck me last Sunday in church. The week before had been Easter, and it had been a wonderful celebration. I had left feeling full and fortunate and grateful.

But the very next Sunday, as I gazed around at the remnants of the Easter service—lilies, an empty cross, candles—I became aware that in the space of just one week I had lost my focus on the life-changing, earth-shattering, universe-altering fact of God’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. As I pondered, I wondered how long it had actually taken for me to become re-immersed in my own small world with its tiny worries. One day, maybe? Just a few hours? As I reviewed my week I realized that I had lived mostly as if Easter hadn’t happened.

And it was then that the force of God’s mercy finally struck me.

You see, those beautiful things in my last post—sunrise, color, taste, etc.—those are actually gracious gifts from God. Grace is receiving above and beyond what I truly deserve. And the many comforts and joys of this life are just that.

Mercy, on the other hand, is not receiving the wrath that is due me. And standing there one week after Easter, having carelessly tossed aside the sacrifice of the only Son of God—no, not in the big “I reject salvation” way, but in my many small, moment-by-moment choices and attitudes—I finally caught a fleeting taste of the immense mercy of God.

When I am fickle, He is steady. When I am petty He is forgiving. When I am untrue to Him, He remains faithful.

It’s a wonder He puts up with me day after day, and doesn’t simply obliterate me where I stand, in all my self-centered foolishness and pride. I would certainly deserve it.

And that is the mercy that is new every morning: the fact that I am around to see another dawn. That I am given breath and life to search, grope, screw up, stumble, and draw nearer to Him one more day.