For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment – James 2:13
I thought I would take a small detour in my posts around the interior life to talk about this important topic of justice vs mercy. In my current role, I have had to deal with this concept of justice vs mercy quite a few times already and I am sure that many who hold some position of authority over others also have to deal with this.
I recently had to resolve a personnel issue at work and it literally took a few weeks to make a call on this discrepancy. After some back and forth via emails and phone calls, I was eventually able to make a judgement call on the matter at hand and both parties agreed that the terms were fair and just. I bring this up because going through this process to resolve a small matter like this took a lot of deliberation and analyzing of the evidence before a firm judgment could be made. It was exhausting! I appreciated at that moment that in order to make a fair and just call on a matter is NOT an easy task and one that needs to be done with great caution. This is why I find the quote by St. James above so powerful for those that are in a position of authority.
Each one will handle justice and mercy differently depending on ones temperament, strengths and weaknesses. For example, in these types of situation I always need to make sure that I understand the situation completely, that I have all facts in front of me and that I have time to meditate on this interiorly before I make a call. Due to my melancholic/choleric nature, this is just how I process decisions. If at any point I do not have a firm foundation in either one of those items, I am unable to make a concrete judgment call and I am hesitant to act because of the concern that the judgment may be unfair. Perhaps some of you are like this. I have seen others that, whether it’s a gift or they simply make swooping judgments, are able to very quickly and fiercely make a call on a matter and stick to it. I am always impressed by judges for this regard, to be able to make a call on very serious situations in a rather compressed time frame. This can be good if the judgement is fair but there is the risk that ones weakness might be causing false judgments. There are others who are simply unable to do make a call because of their temperament and skills. There is a reason why not all of us are judges (although we all like to judge others nevertheless).
All this has truly given me an appreciate for the final judge and the role the Lord plays in the particular and final judgment. I can only imagine how the Lord processes all this and to be able to exact perfect justice for all of mankind across all time. Where it took me a few weeks to resolve an item and make a fair judgement call for some small finite item, it is truly unfathomable how the Lord is able to do this for all of mankind. I think it speaks wonders about the Lord but it should make reflect a bit.
One thing I noticed about myself as I go through these matters pertaining to justice is that I really do not like injustice. It really makes my blood boil, especially if that injustice is being done to the church. There is something about injustice that really cries out for retribution. And why wouldn’t it? In Genesis we see how the Lord himself detests injustice, in this case against Cain who had slain the innocent Abel:
Then the LORD asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! – Genesis 4:9-10
But there is a cautionary note in all this that we see from James. While injustice demands justice, if the judgement is merciless and unjust, we ourselves will be judged mercilessly when we meet our marker. To be honest, this part from James really strikes me and speaks to me as one who has position of authority. It really motivates me to see that in all instances, where possible, mercy should be shown. In this particular instance described above, based on the available information I had I believed an injustice was done but the very next day new light was shed and the injustice was void! It truly is a difficult task.
Does this mean we let injustices slide and turn a blind eye to it? No, but where possible we ought to show mercy. How can we not be? If we expect mercy from God, must we not be merciful ourselves?
All have gone astray; all alike are perverse. Not one does what is good, not even one – Psalm 14:3
I always find it interesting myself when some issue arises that the instant I perceive the individual is sorry for their actions, I cannot help but be merciful. Now, will we ever be able to determine if someone has true contrition? No unfortunately, for we cannot see into hearts. This message of mercy is constant message that the Lord gives us in scripture. So as long as we are on this earth and possess TRUE contrition, He will always forgive us. How reassuring is that! In all things. I would prefer we imitate our Lord:
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt – Matthew 18:23-24
As we can see, the good king had mercy on the servant the first time but showed hard justice the second time. Likewise, I feel this is always a safe approach for us. In matters where we cannot clearly make a just call, I think it is on our part to show mercy until we are proven otherwise to act justly. Else, if we make a merciless judgement the Lord will do the same to us when we meet Him.
I think the Lord will pardon us if we show more mercy because of our very finite knowledge. If we show mercy out of love and perhaps we are deceived, the Lord will exact His justice in the end. If we do make a perceived just call and are later made aware that the decision was unjust, with great humility we must remedy the situation as quickly as possible.
St. Margaret of Scotland, pray for us!