Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2
I have been the one!
The one who interrupted the scene with judgmental thoughts. When I have encountered someone who goes against the flow of what I’ve always thought, I have been the one who abruptly thought or said: that’s just dumb. My initial reaction has been to dismiss the person and to disregard their history that may have influenced their way of thinking/acting. That attitude was a reflection of my own heart. It became a stubborn way of living that is not based on the totality of God’s love. I thought I was living lovingly since I knew that biblical love “finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth”. But this kind of love is lacking the characteristics of what completes it. I was not bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. (I Cor 13)
I have been the one who judges the validity of someone based on what I see/perceive. I have been in circumstances way too often in which I assessed people and situations quickly and harshly, with very little consideration of what had occurred before that moment. I have given opinions that I considered righteous (and maybe they were), but my heart was filled with attitudes of moral superiority. I have assumed that the more I knew, the more it would only confirm my suspicions about a lack of credibility or innocence. So I have refused to look beyond the encounter, to understand the why.
I have been the one to object to the misdemeanors of life. As a rule keeper (generally), I tend to criticize the law breakers – or benders.
I have gloated when the one who sped past me on the highway is now sitting on the side of the road in front of a car with blue lights.
I have cheered when a cheating team loses.
I have assumed that the one trying to break in the line of a long string of traffic (that has all moved over and waited in the correct lane) is a spoiled entitled brat.
I have defended the gate-keepers who make the rules, define the rules, adjust the rules, and maintain the rules.
Yes, I am the one who has dismissed and excused my own feelings of disdain toward others because I have qualified the feelings as “justified or righteous indignation.”
His mercy has chased me all the days of my life. The gospel has been as effective in growing me daily as it was in saving me initially. Thankfully, in the more recent years of my life, I’ve prayed for God’s grace to permeate my heart with the kind of love that sees beyond what is right in front of me. The kind that reminds me that there’s much more to the story than I possibly know. The kind that seeks to understand, not just to be understood. In this process, I’ve wrestled with thoughts about how scripture speaks to my sinful Pharisaical attitude toward those who are not like me. Some of those have other opinions. Some have grown up in a very difficult environment. And some are a different color than I am, and have experienced life from a perspective quite unlike mine.
I finally begin to choose to wait. And listen. And learn.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life thinking that my truth-telling, rule-keeping kind of Christianity is essential for society to function well. And though these aren’t evil characteristics, apart from love they can hinder the witness of the person who desires to walk the Jesus Way. Leaving little or no room for mercy can lead to frustration and cynicism, which is actually a detriment to society. It’s simply another form of entitlement. Some feel entitled because of their economic status. Or age. Or race. Or nationality. Or position of authority. OR … their law-abiding, hard-working, self-motivated, minding-your-own-business philosophy. Yep , I can feel entitled to be the judge of people that appear entitled! 🙂
It’s interesting that the book of the Bible that would speak so much about joyful living contains the following thoughts: “But in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2)
The joy that I’ve discovered as I consider others before myself has far outweighed the satisfaction I may have felt when the lawbreaker “got their’s”. I have found that peace has come from seeking to enter another’s injury and really hear their pain.
There is definitely a place and time for judgment, but that’s not to be my initial or personal heart response. And there has been so much freedom that comes in releasing myself from the mission to always speak up in defense of my version of fairness! Because it’s just possible that what a person has experienced explains a great deal about their actions. And I want to extend a merciful disposition and listening ear to their stories.
How shall we know when to do justice and how to show mercy?
By getting as close to Jesus as you possibly can. I know of no hard and fast rules in Scripture to dictate for every situation. And I don’t think this is an accident. The aim of Scripture is to produce a certain kind of person, not provide and exhaustive list of rules for every situation.
The beatitude says, “Blessed are the merciful,” not, “Blessed are those who know exactly when and how to show mercy in all circumstances.” We must be merciful people even when we act with severity in the service of justice. That is, we must be:
poor in spirit,
sorrowful for our own sin,
meekly free from defensiveness and self-exaltation,
hungering and thirsting for all that is right to be done,
perceptive of a person’s distress and misery,
feeling pity for his pain,
and making every effort to see the greatest good done for the greatest number.
You will often support the claims of justice and recompense a person the way he deserves, in order to bear witness to the truth of God’s justice and to accomplish a greater good for greater numbers of people.
But if you are a merciful person, then even the way you spank a child or prosecute a criminal or dismiss an employee will be different. The mercy will show. The parent may cry. The attorney may visit the criminal and his family. The employer may pay for remedial training.
The heart of mercy will show.
More and more I have come to realize that Jesus’ scales of measuring are so different than mine. In my human nature (void of the Spirit), I measure circumstances and people by the standards of justice that I’ve personally created. I want “those bad people” to be punished immediately, and I want the punishment to be administered my way. It should happen quickly and must also meet my standard of fairness. That standard includes known scripture as well as the laws of the land. Mostly, the standard has been determined through years of personal experiences and how those experiences relate to the known commandments or laws.
I am still in the process of uncovering these subtle and hidden sins of assumption and pride. I continue to pray for and pursue a heart that listens out of sincere love for others – believing the best about them and hoping the best for them. So, these days when I turn on the news or read the most recent social media debate (some would say debacle) it’s best to turn to prayerful consideration of how Jesus lived and taught. His was a life of perfect paradox: He personally submitted to authority because He possessed a high view of righteousness and justice, but He publicly spoke against accusation and retaliation because He possessed a high view of mercy. (Luke 23)
The law-abiding religious leaders needed lessons in humility. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God would include mercy for the Samaritans, for women, for children, for the poor, for the leper, for the prostitute, for the thief (on the cross) …
and for ME!
What love could remember no wrongs we have done?
Omniscient, all knowing, He counts not their sum.
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore,
our sins they are many,
His mercy is more!
What patience would wait as we constantly roam?
What Father, so tender, is calling us home?
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor!
Our sins they are many,
His mercy is more.
What riches of kindness he lavished on us.
His blood was the payment, His life was the cost.
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford.
Our sins they are many,
His mercy is more!
Praise the Lord!
His mercy is more!
Stronger than darkness, new every morn!
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more!!