1. Seek justice.
2. Love mercy.
3. Walk humbly with your God.
Sounds like one of those “Pick two” jokes.
But if I believe what I say I believe, then I’m supposed to embrace all three. Not one at a time, but all at once. I have a lot to learn about how to do that.
Bear with me. This isn’t a movie review or a music review. This is just something that’s on my mind today. I’ll explain why, but first I have to write down the heavy stuff.
I’m convinced that the order of that list — justice, mercy, humility — is not arbitrary. I think it’s a progression. Part One leads to Part Two, which brings us to Part Three.
I can watch the news, see barbaric acts carried out against God’s children, and feel rage. Feel fury. And feel a roaring desire for justice. To be honest, I can feel that desire to see a Cosmic Sledgehammer brought down on others for a lot less than murder. I can find myself wanting it if somebody offends me on social media, or treats me unfairly at work, or cuts me off in traffic. But justice is good, right? I’m supposed to seek it! That’s PART ONE.
But if when I call for justice I am actually voicing the human appetite for Payback, for Equal and Opposite Violence against a wrongdoer, then I had better watch out. Such a standard of justice applied to me would demand a price I don’t want to pay.
The more I attend to Christ, the more I realize how I would not remain standing under the rule of Sledgehammer Justice — that swift, violent, painful justice that I find myself wishing upon others.
God’s justice isn’t about Payback. It isn’t a sledgehammer. It isn’t an eye for an eye. It’s mysterious.
So then I have to ask myself: If I’m going to gratefully rely on God’s mercy in order to escape Sledgehammer Justice, why am I so slow to hope for mercy for my enemies? Even when Jesus’ enemies were in the full violence of their sin, crucifying him, he did not cry “JUSTICE!” like some rifle-bearing American hero. Instead, he opened his arms to their violence and, as he suffered and died, asked God to have mercy on his enemies, to show forgiveness where it was not wanted, asked for, or deserved.
That seems crazy. It is crazy… because it lets the terrorists win. Unless. Unless there is something bigger than violence, more powerful than killing. Unless, having struck a blow, the terrorists only think they’ve won.
I believe that God has been merciful to me in spite of my daily failures and offenses. And because of that, I’m beginning to realize what it must mean to seek God’s kind of justice. It must mean that I should seek to offer others what has been shown to me. That, I suspect, is the justice God wants me to seek. Seeking justice leads me to understand that true justice is about loving mercy. That’s PART TWO.For me to show mercy to enemies, even if they’re unrepentant, even if it comes at the cost of my life… that seems crazy. But that’s how the Gospel flips everything. When I catch sight of that… it’s kind of terrifying. Jesus really did make all things new. Jesus’ love and mercy is the kind that never repays violence with Violent Justice, but that embraces the violence brought upon it in order to reveal that violence and death are weaker than the love that swallows them up. That’s why Jesus’ disciples did not become an armed plot to carry out violence against those who had persecuted him, to wage war against those who wanted to eliminate the church. They got it. They understood that they were under no threat at all… that nothing could separate them from their Maker or his plan. Violence against them would only bring them into deeper union with Jesus, who had suffered it all.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” That is to say… for me to live is a chance to show mercy; and if I die? I’ll be blessed with full union with God. As my friend Scott Cairns likes to say, “All fires are remedial.” Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil… for Jesus’ love reveals that death is just a shadowy valley. He is with me, and he did this. He was attacked. He was even killed. And he was not defeated. We share his sufferings when we fall under death’s shadows, but we move through it with him. Every act of murderous violence brought against the people of God will reveal, in time, the greater measure of God’s mercies.
Holding onto that perspective, though, as the enemies of the Gospel are carrying out their violence against believers? That’s hard work. That requires a vigorous humility.
Maybe that’s part of why we’re asked to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.” Aha… PART THREE.
Perhaps that’s why I was so moved watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s story as I watched Selma, or why I was so inspired by the story of the monks in the film Of Gods and Men. (You knew I’d bring this back to movies, didn’t you?) Those stories looked like Real Gospel.
It’s not difficult to type these words. But to live them? I really don’t know how to live them moment to moment. Maybe writing about this is a step toward an actual practice.
By the way, someone I recently treated with something less than grace forgave me today.
I’m deeply grateful. Humankind’s idea of justice would have required something else.
But I sensed Christ in his graciousness. And that’s why this is on my mind.