Justice and/or Mercy?

Justice and/or Mercy?

By Kyle Patterson

(ThriveBuffalo.Tumblr.com) The love of God poured out for us in Christ demands our response, not to earn anything but love him in return. We love because he first loved us, the book of 1 John tells us.

So what is God looking for in terms of a response to his incredible love that he has given to us in Christ? As believers we are commanded by God through his prophet Micah on three specific things we are to do in response to all that Christ has done for us in the cross:

  1. Love mercy
  2. Act justly
  3. Walk humbly with our God

These requirements pretty much sum up for us the outward expressions of an inward change and transformation brought about when the Spirit of God does a work inside the believer’s life. When God’s Spirit touches your spirit, you’re never going to be the same. The Gospel is not about trying to do these things, it is about allowing God to possess more of your heart and work in you by his grace the things that please himself. You can’t live the Christian life on your own. Mentally ascribing to a code of moral living is falling far short from what Christ died to give you. You aren’t declared right with God because of what you have done but because of what Christ has done for you. And when you understand that, it changes you. You’re not living from a place of duty or trying harder to be right with God because you already are, right now.

So back to our points.

As Christians we get glimpses into what it is to love. The greatest commandment and summary of the entire Bible can be given in this one word, love. I think the greatest challenge as believers is to actually live this out and love, even our enemies. But we get it. We know we fall short constantly, but we understand the idea.

Mercy we are so grateful for. The mercy of God at the cross is the most amazing display of kindness by God. That he would take the punishment for our sins on himself and allow us to go free when we simply put our trust in him is overwhelming. It’s beyond our imagination.

But what about justice?  What does God mean when he asks us to act justly? I was having a conversation with someone recently who downplayed the role of Christians in terms of the need to do justice. Almost as if we should just shrug off systemic sins of injustice that are hurting people and just give mercy when there is a need for change in culture and systems. This includes even professing Christian establishments however nominal they are. Because after all we got mercy not justice for our sin so leave it at that.

I understand what the friend was saying but I believe it falls so short in our calling as Christ’s ambassadors in the earth and may be a root of why some believers have fallen into complacency and passivity when they are to be the answer to some of their own prayers in the earth. I think there is a fundamental issue here is some circles of Christian thought. As children of God we are to love mercy but we must act justly and for justice. We are to love people and show mercy when they sin against us. But I believe this justice issue calls Christians to work for change in systems of the earth that favor the rich, hurt the poor and operate politically.  To overlook systemic wrongs of society and patch them over with mercy is to fall way short of being the change agent Christ calls his people to be.

I believe this is best understood by reading the text Jesus himself quoted concerning himself at the start of his ministry. Isaiah 61 describes the work of God to do justice on the earth. Christ himself came to bring justice to the earth, something that will be revealed in full at his second coming.

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

   to proclaim freedom for the captives

   and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

   and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

3     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

   instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

   instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

   instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

   a planting of the Lord

   for the display of his splendor.

God’s justice where there is sickness is healing.

God’s justice where there is sin and darkness is healing and forgiveness.

God’s justice against systemic poverty is generosity.

God’s justice when there is sorrow is the release of joy.

God’s justice for the poor is the release of the Gospel of good news.

God’s justice is released when the enemies of God are overthrown and the establishment of his kingdom advances.

Where there’s depression, God’s justice is the release of praise and thanksgiving.

As believers it is a clarion call in Scripture to work for justice. This does not negate the call for mercy. It’s not a decision of mercy or justice. It is both and. We love mercy and we sow mercy into the lives of everyone we meet. Blessed are the merciful. Happy are those who are not holding grudges and unforgiveness. We must sow mercy into the lives of people and at the same time work toward justice on a larger scale while offering mercy for those who have caused the problems. Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing, comes to mind. The brokenness of humanity causes the injustice and for the individuals involved we forgive them. But we must not stop there as Christians, we must work for large scale transformation and change where there is systemic injustice and wrongs being done. And this includes Christian institutions and organizations that have been so entrenched injustice that the truth can not even be seen.

For example, clean water in third world nations. Mercy digs wells that help whole villages. Justice works for community and national change and economic development that prevents the poor from getting ahead and keeps them in cyclical and generational poverty. Both must be addressed for true change to occur and for the kingdom of God to be manifest on the earth. So we love mercy by providing basic needs and we act justly by working for cultural change.

And you do not have to go around the world to find ways to love mercy and act justly. Yeah we must not limit works of justice to third world countries. There is injustice all around you that perhaps God would have you do something about. Begin with prayer. Do what’s possible and suddenly you’re doing the impossible, according to St. Francis. There are opportunities everyday to stand up for those with no voice.

Abortion is another huge one. We must love mercy for those trapped in a cycle of poor relationships and sinful decisions to have sex outside of a marriage covenant relationship. But that is not enough. We must work toward cultural change and the overturn of abortion in our country. We must act justly on behalf of the unborn and pray and work for change.

In Scripture, the Parable of the Good Samaritan shows us mercy when the Samaritan cares for the man beaten and left for dead. Justice would be preventing this type of thing from happening again by assuring protection, better security and monitoring of this route by police or other government authority to prevent this type of abuse of travelers again. In mercy and justice we see God’s will in both mercy for the man hurt and justice in cultural change. Without a view of God’s mercy and justice and how they play out in human society, we fall short of being salt and light in the world today.

God describes the call of the believer to work for justice, to care for the poor, to speak up for those with no voice and to love the orphan, the widow and the foreigner in no uncertain terms throughout the story line of Scripture. In one sense we are to care for them by showing mercy to those in need and in another sense work for change to prevent their condition from happening to others. As believers we are the voice for the voiceless. Another example is the unborn. They have no voice. Helpless to defend themselves, the believer must make their voice heard. The lover of the refugee and foreigners. The friend to the homeless.

But mercy is not enough. We must next move toward justice. We must care in such a way that it moves us to action that stops the system and evil prevalent in the world that caused the problem in the first place.

We must act embody salt and light in the world by offering mercy and then working for justice, because if we do, we will manifest the love of God in the earth and the world will see the glory of God in a Church that is mobilized and making a difference in their world. Because faith without works is dead.

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