Does Mercy Truly Triumph Over Judgement?

Talk of injustice brings to mind apartheid, racism and lawful matters. It makes us think of courts and authority and right versus wrong. When a hurricane is hurling toward our doorsteps, we usually don’t stop to wonder about the justice of its attack.

My husband and I didn’t respond to Hurricane Sandy with the prescribed panic and preparations. I didn’t buy any extra batteries, water or canned food. We didn’t board up our windows or batten down hatches. In fact, the only thing I was concerned about was whether or not we would lose power.

During the freakish summer storm that caught most of the east coast by surprise, we lost power for about 2 days. With heat indices topping 110 degrees, we lay motionless in our basement complaining mildly. It’s a terrible inconvenience to not be able to make my morning coffee, dry my hair, do the laundry or watch TV. So as Sandy came, I dreaded another few dimly lit days.

Sandy rattled our windows and threatened to toss the neighbor’s trees into our roof, all day long. Suddenly I thought of a little old maI see almost everyday on my dog walks. He sits serenely on a wooden bench in the shade beside the public library. Usually, he is surrounded by newspapers and a couple of small, flattened boxes. He’s always dressed in the same brown, mid-weight coat, black pants and plain shoes. I don’t think he speaks English, because when I nod politely and murmur, “Hello,” he just looks simply back at me.

What startles me every time is the shine in his eyes. Blackest black, they glisten and glint in the morning light. The sparkle belies what I wonder about his situation: is he homeless, hungry, hot or cold? Does anyone know he’s out here everyday and does he have any family?

One quick dash to our mailbox that afternoon, proved that Sandy was ushering in winter. The temperature had dropped to low 40s and wind whipped, slapped and stung as it played pingpong with raindrops. I wondered, Is he out there in this? Was he out there this summer?

The next morning, my dog and I hustled down our usual route past the library, and there he stood in the narrow doorway, hands stuffed deeply into his pockets, elbows locked defensively at his sides. His chin was down as if he could disappear inside his coat collar.

Impulsively, I ran down the hill toward the library and pulled what little cash I had from my pockets. “Here,” I said. “Please, go get something warm to eat or drink.”

At first he wouldn’t take the money from my hands, but I stood for a second, really wondering what to do. He didn’t answer me either. Finally, both brittle cold hands wrapped around my own, and cupped the money then slid away, concealing the bills. I touched his arm and said, “God bless you.” Then hurried away.

I was fortunate to show the man mercy, but what about justice? Is it just that I will finish my walk, shed my layers and curl up on the couch beside a husband who loves me? Is it just that even if he manages to get a hot meal and a pair of gloves, tomorrow he’ll be right where I saw him today? Is it just?

That day, my heart began to simmer in my chest. I wondered helplessly, at first, What could I possibly do? The next day, I got a sweet letter from the child we sponsor through Compassion International. Innocently, she asked about my life, but what could I reply?

Is it just that she is an orphan? Is it just that her lot in life is to scrap and save and rely on mercy just to live; while I enjoy variety in my food, advanced education, warmth and relative comfort?

“He has shown thee oh man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

It’s just like the Lord to leave me without excuses. Through the volunteer coordinate from another organization, I recently learned about a group called FACETS that reaches out to the homeless specifically. Starting in just a few weeks, they will begin a special program to prevent hypothermia among the homeless in our county. I called immediately and was put to work the next day.

James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Despite the social urge to do something about these injustices, judgement cannot reconcile innate discrepancies. Romans 12:1 tells us that God has shown us great mercy. To live out this mercy, to be a conduit from God’s heart to an unjust world, this will triumph.

Judgement-lite

As I read about the second Counterfeit Gospel, Jeremiah 8 kept coming to mind.

They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed an abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. (v. 11-12)

All day long, in every podium (alas, often in our churches) the buzz-word, “tolerance” blares. “Don’t judge.” (The Biblical context disregarded.) “We all need to love one another.” No one wants to have to choose, let alone instruct anyone else in right or wrong. We have parents raising their children “genderless” so that they can choose whatever makes them “happy.” Parents are encouraged not to spank their children and to soften their approaches to discipline, another indication that our world can’t stomach any form of judgement.

Trevin Wax coins this dilution of the Gospel, “judgmentless.” The problems listed above are modern, plastered on the front pages of newspapers, preached from universalist pulpits, and marched in protests. But Wax examines the root of the problem.

The idea that people are basically good. This philosophy looks at the tantrum throwing two-year-old and declares that he doesn’t really mean it, certainly he was just provoked. Surely, words of hatred, white lies, divorce, infidelity – all have justifiable causes. Since God looks at our hearts, and since God is love, this gospel insists that God understands.

It makes it easier to win converts. Quite simply, it’s easier to build a mega-church if you allow everyone to have their own version of God. It’s really hard to look at your coworker and honestly tell them that if they don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God who sacrificed Himself for their personal sins and rose again, they are going to hell.

Near the end of the chapter, Wax delivers a decisive blow. For all our talk about justice: we cry for justice against the evils of slavery, we want justice and equality for women in the work place, we want criminals punished, and underdog to be rescued – we don’t know what we’re asking for. If we truly want justice, we truly want a righteous Judge.

If you expect God to do something about the evil in this world, then you want God to judge. (pg 80)

Therein is the truth, the beauty and the difficulty of the true Gospel. We all deserve judgement. The real, divine righteousness that our hearts long for will condemn each one of  us. Thankfully, the mercy of our God is equal to His absolute justice. He poured out unspeakable wrath against all evil on His own son, Jesus. And Jesus rose, conquered death, condemned sin in the flesh.

[Now] We need only recognize our guilt in light of God’s holiness and then bask in [His] forgiveness in light of God’s grace. (pg. 82)