Whenever we encounter issues of injustice or in any instance where we ourselves have been wronged by someone else for whatever reason, there is almost always a battle that wages on inside of us at our deepest level. The more we are living in a state of grace, the more aware we will be of this battle going on within. The more easily we have been giving in to sin, the less we will see signs of this ‘fight’. What is this battle, struggle or fight? It is to decide at that moment whether we want to show mercy to the person who has wronged us, or to demand for justice and some form of recompense.
The more we are living in a state of grace, where we stay as close as possible to the divine image of God that we are made in, the easier it seems to be to give mercy a chance, even if it means that this was the 7 times 77th time. But if we have strayed far from the state of grace and have either tarnished or defaced the image of God that we are made in, it becomes so much easier to deny mercy yet another chance, and to cry out for revenge, retribution or some form of recrimination.
On the human, personal level, it does often seem that the two do not meet. It’s either mercy or recompense. One or the other, and they seem to be mutually exclusive. I don’t think that I am painting with a broad brush to say that a great majority of the human population will demand for the latter most of the time. The fact that there are so many lawsuits, demands for compensation and good names to be cleared easily gives the impression that there is something inherent in our human DNA that insists on restitution. And when we do encounter real stories of extraordinary displays of forgiveness and mercy, we get so surprised about it that we often act as if we have come across something as extraordinary as a triple humped camel. Why is this so?
Perhaps it comes down to this – that the showing of mercy and forgiveness appears to be a very dangerous thing. It means that we are giving those who have caused our pain, sufferings and discomforts another chance to inflict them on us again. The issuers of justice would stand up against this and say that giving them mercy is an injustice in itself, and that we are sending out the message that it is ok to hurt and steal, and to cause untold sufferings to others. Of course that would not be the rationale for mercy at all, but we have to acknowledge that this could very well be the message that this could send out. Truth, justice, morality, orthodoxy and virtue are all noble and good. We must never treat these with any degree of flippancy. Putting these on hold and allowing mercy to surpass them in importance is a risk that many of us do not like to take.
Does not God do this in a divinely analogous way when he forgives? That unforgettable phrase uttered by Jesus on the Cross seems to put it across, albeit succinctly – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Our human reckoning will say that they will do it again and again if they do not know what it is that they are doing. But the mercy of God looks at things with a different eye. It gives the ignorant a chance, over and over, until it truly knows what it is that it is doing. Then, the moment that enlightenment comes to the person, that becomes the tipping point of conversion. Not just a superficial conversion, but a deep seated and life-altering one.
In this way, there is no problem speaking of God’s mercy and justice in the same breath. They are not opposites. In fact, one cannot be experienced without the other. The problem with many of us, when it comes to mercy, is that we dole it out with much calculation and in portions smaller than smidgens. We want the recipients of our mercy and forgiveness to deserve it. Indeed, one of the great insights that Jesus gives is that God’s mercy just cannot help but go out to everyone. It is a universal embrace that covers all, scandalously beyond custom, ideologies, rubrics, nationalities, political boundaries, and surprise, surprise, even sin itself.
If God takes that risk with such seeming abandon, and if we ourselves have received over and over again such divine forgiveness and have experienced how great it is to live in a state of grace, we need to be purveyors of this joy without charge.
In God, mercy and justice do meet. If we meet God daily, we too can be conduits so that others can experience God as well.