Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Justice and Mercy

I having been thinking a lot about justice and mercy lately.  On the surface justice and mercy seem dichotomic, that is to say, mutually exclusive or unable to coexist.  It is almost impossible to show mercy to a criminal, for instance, while still seeking justice for his crimes.  It is difficult for us to separate the act, or the crime, which we feel needs justice meted out, with the person, who made a human mistake and just needs mercy.  Our mind war over which is the better course to take, because we feel that neither will give us the feelings of closure that we seek.

This same battle goes on in our lives, as well as in the criminal justice system.  When someone has wronged us, hurt us in some way, we want to punish that person, make them pay for their crimes against us.  It seems only fitting that they should suffer, after all, they caused us injury and personal pain; justice is called for.  On the other hand, we can see that their actions were a mistake; their own painful past is what perhaps made them act in such a way, so we want to be merciful, forgive and forget.  Our minds and hearts rest on mercy for a moment and then, next thing we know, we are back to a place of just wanting that person to pay.  On and on the circle goes - justice and mercy, two sides of the coin, waging war inside of us.  It can be such a conflict that we become stuck in the cycle, unable to puzzle out the right way to react.  Neither justice nor mercy, in exclusion, leaves us feeling satisfied to lay the matter to rest, once and for all.

So it is with me.  I find myself in a place where justice and mercy are battling for victory in my mind (and heart) and I am stuck in the cycle.  As it is with most problems in my life, make that all problems in my life, the answer to my dilemma can be found in the life of Jesus.  Who better to learn a lesson from, than the man who showed mercy to the very people who crucified him, when most of us would have wanted severe justice to be served had we been in his position.

It's not that Jesus didn't have it in him to mete out justice.  He did that many times.  He told his followers, as well as the religious leaders around him of the consequences of their disobedience and/or non-belief.  He was very clear about the lines, where they were drawn and laid down rules about the justice that would be served to those who crossed those lines.  He had no problem following through with what needed to be done as a course of punishment.  And yet, he never failed to see the humanity within each person with whom he dealt, showing them his love and his mercy whenever they needed it.  I am in awe of how he did that, because for the life of me, I do not understand how it is possible.  I know it is, though, because Jesus never expected more of himself than he expected of his servants, so if he was able to achieve it, there is a way for us also to achieve.

I have to learn, how to achieve this goal of justice meeting mercy, if I am to grow, so I need to dig a bit deeper into this subject in order to gain some wisdom.  In so doing, I have come across this passage, the 23rd chapter of Matthew.  Jesus is talking to a crowd of people and he warns them not to do as the religious leaders do, that being, acting pompous and pious on the outside, while dull and merciless on the inside.  In verse 23 Jesus calls the leaders Blind Guides and admonishes them for straining out a gnat, all the while, swallowing a camel.  Yikes!  I think maybe he is telling us not to concentrate so much on the small things other people do, but to look at the big picture.  Not only that, but also to look at our own dirty hand whilst we're at it.  This is a lot to chew on.

When in conflict with others, there are always things we wish we had done differently.  Perhaps it is better to focus more on ourselves, and the things that we might have done better, than it is to focus on the other person and how they hurt us.  After all, the only things we control are our own actions and feelings.  It does no good to examine and revisit what someone else did and wish that it had been different, because, try as we may, we will never be able to even fully understand, much less change what they did.  We can only change ourselves; learn and grow our own insides. 

Along the way, we have to learn also how to marry justice and mercy in our own lives, by changing the things that are wrong, and then setting it aside after a while.  We can't live in a state of self-flagellation all the time.  There comes a time when we have to be merciful with ourselves, knowing that it was in our own humanity that we erred.  Nothing we ever do is irredeemable.  We have to give ourselves permission to forgive ourselves along with forgiving others; take the good that has been learned and leave the junk behind.  Yes, I have decided that justice and mercy can indeed live hand in hand in our lives.  It is a delicate balance, but it can be done.

Downhere - At War