Friday, April 17, 2009

Mercy vs. Justice

A situation occurred recently in which I was offended greatly, brazenly and in front of others for whom the actions would certainly offend and in front of whom my response can leave me open to ridicule, condemnation and shame. Actually, some of the people who would likely have been aware of the offensive actions of the other party would likely have made my life miserable no matter how I dealt with the situation.

My instant response (internally) was to take up a flaming sword and pronounce judgement and swift and terrible punishment. I wanted to yell and scream judgement. One of my flaws is that I often don't know what the right thing to do is in that moment. I often have to really step back and think things through to decide how to respond. Sometimes this makes me look weak in the eyes of others, and sometimes a situation is made worse because a simple thing could be taken care of right away with minimal embarrassment to either party, where the delay in responding adds a level of embarrassment to the other person that is needless.

This is not one of those times. This offense, the great and terrible offense, needed consideration and several hours of struggle and thought as to how to respond. At the ripe old age of 44, I really want to begin acting not from pure passion, but from wisdom fueled by passion. Even though my initial response would have been totally justified, some reflection and tears and prayer allowed for a solution that offered mercy.

In the spiritual gifts testing, mercy is not a real big one. I am learning however to show to others the mercy that God has shown to me. He has not dealt with me according to my iniquities, nor has he dealt out punishment sufficient to my crime. Actually, he did mete out punishment sufficient to my crime, but then he also took that punishment in the person of Jesus the Messiah. That punishment, deserved by me, he bore in his own body on the tree. So when I look at the person who has so offended me I have to consider two things, how I can show mercy and yet not damage the person if consequences should be given for their own betterment.

The difference here is that I have no right or authority to mete out eternal punishment, and even though he paid my eternal pardon, I often have earthly consequences for my sins. Even those, however, he often does not make me suffer in the full weight that I deserve. Have you ever noticed earthly grace that reminds you of the grace of God?

So this was my dilemma: to mete out earthly consequences that the offender richly deserved, and preserve my standing in front of others, or to show mercy and allow myself to be looked down upon by others and perhaps not provide the earthly consequences that the offender needs to end their destructive behavior. I erred on the side of mercy, but needed to know that the other party understood their offense and promised never to repeat it. For should the other party repeat it, they will suffer very clear consequences which will happen immediately.

What I am wondering now is if I should insist that the person apologize for their actions to the other people who witnessed and would be offended by the event? Would I be doing that simply to preserve my own reputation in their eyes? I don't know, but I think I will talk to the offending party to let them know that I believe they should apologize, but I will leave it to them to follow through. After all, the offended party is supposed to go to the offender, right? So if the other person takes offense but does nothing, isn't that a problem between the two of them?

Come on, Bible scholars... Let me know what you think.

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