Justice and Mercy

I love my kids. My kids are my world. I often find myself feeling sorry for other parents, since no other parents get to know what it’s like to have the best kids in the whole world. I can only imagine what other parents go through with their kids. I’ve seen other kids in public, and I’m constantly saying to myself, “I’m so glad that’s not my kid.”

My son has his struggles. He has a genetic condition called Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome. This leads to a variety of physical and mental complications. Despite this, he loves his sister very much. The other day, he went back-to-school shopping with his mom. They stopped to pick something up that I had requested, and then he stopped and said, “Wait! We need to get something for Annie! I know!” Then he grabbed a package of M&M’s so he could give them to her. Carson doesn’t like M&M’s, but he knows his sister does.

Annie is equally concerned about her brother. Once when Carson was being goofy and refusing to get out of the car at a playground, Annie turned to me and said, “Don’t yell at my brother! If you’re going to be like that, then I’ll just skip the playground.” I wasn’t actually yelling. I was just trying to keep Carson moving, so that we could get to the playground. Annie was the only one that wanted the playground that day, but she would have given it up to keep her brother from getting into trouble.

Both kids have their own personalities. Carson and I spent two years perfecting the story of the Three Little Pigs together. The drive from my parents’ house to home was just long enough to tell the version we ended up with. Carson would suggest changes, and I would suggest changes, and after two years it is perfect!

Annie is strong and fiercely independent. For her sixth birthday at the beginning of the year, I took her to her favorite place: OMSI (The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.) When it was time to leave (so we could get home to her surprise party) she stopped, looked me square in the eye, and asked, “What kind of a father makes his daughter leave OMSI on her birthday?” (Emphasis hers.) We agreed on ten more minutes, then packed up to leave, and she was good about getting out the door and walking, but about halfway between the exit and our car she turned to me and said, “Just so you know, you’re a bad Daddy.” Her tune changed a bit when she came home to a surprise party.

Despite all this love and intelligence, my kids don’t always get along. My son is very imaginative and my daughter is very grounded, and this can lead to some very fascinating arguments. My son wanted to name one of my parents’ sheep “Peter Rabbit,” because it went hoping off. Annie wouldn’t hear it, because, “Carson, it’s not a rabbit. It’s a sheep.” And while Annie loves OMSI, Carson would much rather spend the day at the Oregon Zoo. More than once when Annie has suggested going to OMSI for the day, Carson has gotten exasperated and said, “Again? We always go to OMSI when it’s Annie’s choice. Can’t we just go to the zoo and be happy?”

Sometimes the fights get out of hand. They have a difference that can’t just be reconciled. That’s when a parent has to step in and start making some decisions. One kid wants OMSI, one kid wants the zoo, and it’s come to blows. Time for me to say, “Alright, I’ve decided. Since I’m driving, we’re going to a movie.” Sometimes they can’t decide what to watch on Netflix, and I have to step in and say, “Carson picks first, then we will take turns.”

Things get harder when we’re talking about adults. Have you ever read 1 Kings chapter 3 and wondered how Solomon could be so confident that the woman who wanted to leave the child alive was the real mother? You have to admit, there are some pretty horrible mothers out there. I’ve known a few mothers that would have taken the half a child. Look at the abuse and neglect that happen to children.

Then I realized something. It doesn’t matter. The mom who would give up everything to keep the child whole was more a mother than the one who would see the child killed, regardless of who birthed the baby. Any way you slice it, this child was better off where it landed. This was justice.

When a relationship is strained or broken, justice is whatever it takes to restore order and balance. When my kids can’t decide on Netflix, justice is setting an alternating pattern so everyone gets a turn to choose. When they can’t decide on a fun activity for the afternoon, it’s choosing for them. Justice makes rules or conditions that serve everyone. I borrow money from the bank with the agreement that I’ll pay it back. If I can’t, there are rules about what happens then. If I pay for an apple and walk out, that’s fine. If I don’t pay, it’s stealing. If we eliminated the laws about stealing, stores would stop selling. If they can’t get money back for the time and energy they put into selling, they would rather spend that time playing with their kids.

Sometimes, the rules and systems that make justice happen are what ruin relationships. If you borrow money, then get injured and can’t repay, then the bank needs to take legal action against you. If you are out of money because you’re trying to pay the bank, then your only option to survive is stealing the apple. The store then has to take legal action against you. If they don’t, there’s a breakdown of justice. If they don’t do it against you, then when they do against another it looks like they’re playing favorites. Playing favorites isn’t justice.

Knowing this doesn’t leave you with a lot of options, though. You want to live in a just society, but you need mercy. This is why both justice and mercy are insufficient as ideals.

I love my children. When I tell them that we’re seeing a movie instead of the activities they want, it’s not a power play. I’m making the decision not to play favorites. When I set up taking turns, I’m trying to find the ideal for both of them. But on Halloween, when both my kids decide that all the candy goes to Annie (because Carson hates candy and loves his sister) I don’t get involved. Justice is always about what’s fair. Mercy is always about what’s possible. Love is always about what’s best. Our goal should be to use justice and mercy to express our love.

3 thoughts on “Justice and Mercy

  1. Can you further explain what you mean when you say mercy is “what’s possible?” Is there a Scripture that also supports your unique (but good) definition of mercy?

    1. I don’t think my definition of mercy is unique. One problem trying to define mercy “scripturally” is that languages aren’t 1 to 1. The English word “mercy” doesn’t have just one equivalent in Greek it Hebrew, and each of the words translated as “mercy” can be translated to other English words as well. That’s why when you compare multiple translations, many places where you find “mercy” in one you’ll find “forgiveness,” “kindness,” or “patience” or some other similar word in another translation. But the fact that the same words translated “mercy” in the King James are so often translated “kindness” in, for example, Young’s Literal Translation, should by itself lend towards my definition. But to pick a few from the King James that seem to use mercy the same way I do:

      Matthew 9:13  But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (KJV)

       Matthew 9:13  but having gone, learn ye what is, Kindness I will, and not  sacrifice, for I did not come to call righteous men, but  sinners, to reformation.’ (YLT)

      Luke 16:24  And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. (KJV)

       Luke 16:24  and having cried, he said, Father Abraham, deal kindly  with me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his  finger in water, and may cool my tongue, because I am  distressed in this flame. (YLT)

       Romans 9:15  For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (KJV)

       Romans 9:15  for to Moses He saith, `I will do kindness to whom I do  kindness, and I will have compassion on whom I have  compassion;’ (YLT)

       Ephesians 2:3-4
      3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
      4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, (KJV)

       Ephesians 2:3-4
      3 among whom also we all did walk once in the desires of our  flesh, doing the wishes of the flesh and of the thoughts, and  were by nature children of wrath — as also the others,
      4 and God, being rich in kindness, because of His great love  with which He loved us, (YLT)

       1 Timothy 1:16  Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (KJV)

       1 Timothy 1:16  but because of this I found kindness, that in me first  Jesus Christ might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern  of those about to believe on him to life age-during: (YLT)

      I hope that helps.

  2. As to mercy being about what’s possible, I can give two examples. The first is Solomon and the baby. Justice would be to give the baby back to the biological mother. Mercy would be to forgive the mother who stole the baby and let her keep the baby. Love doesn’t really look at “is this just” or “this is merciful,” but recognizes that the mother who will give up her happiness to save the child is the best one to care for the baby. So if that’s the biological mother, then it’s justice. If it’s the kidnapping mother, then it’s mercy. No matter what, it’s love.

    The other is Paul. God could have smote him with all the fire in heaven, but God saw that Paul was the one to deliver his message. Seeing what was possible, he spoke to him and gave mercy instead.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s