Do you have kids? Do you work with kids? If you do you know that built deep into their make-up is a sense of fairness. Always things must be divided equally from cake to socks! It seems that we carry that sense through into adulthood, if something isn’t fair it just grates, so deeply that we are prepared to throw an election to make a point about who has and has not (End of political statement).
Fairness is essentially what we mean when we talk about justice. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth expresses the concept well and though it might be difficult to act justly always it’s easy to understand and accept. Mercy is more tricky. It’s fuzzy, it’s over generous. It’s unpredictable, it doesn’t seem to take account of the just desserts we all so dearly crave.
So what is mercy? It is a recognition that justice doesn’t necessarily equate with goodness – bear with me! After WW1 the Allied Nations (including Britain, France, Italy and Russia) signed the Treaty of Versailles. It included the War Guilt clause which equired “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage”. forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2016). Let’s be clear, there are only 31 villages in the whole of England where all the men who went away came back. ~And in France there was only one. The cost of the war to these nations was horrendous. It seems only just that the country who started the war should pay something for those actions. There were those who said that the cost was too high, including the economist John Maynard Keynes. But the Allies pushed it through.
While that War Guilt clause is not the only cause of the Second World War it certainly helped to contribute to an impossible economic situation with hyper-inflation in Germany that led to massive discontent and provided a fertile breeding ground for the kind of hatred that the Nazi party were keen to spread.
No mercy, but lots of justice; not goodness, but certainly fairness.
But who of us would have stood with Keynes, when every male in our family had been murdered on the battlefields of France?
Mercy is contradictory and and counter-intuitive. And the appearance of it in our lives can only come from two things: compassion and an understanding that God has been and is being merciful to us. However far we have moved in the Christian journey one thing will be clear. We have been given more than we deserve – more than is fair. Is it fair that God came as a human to show us just how much he loved us? Is it fair that he had to die because there was no other way to live love to the end? Not really. But it is merciful. That is one reason why Christians are against the death penalty. An eye for an eye etc would make it the best punishment for some people. And yet we are called to love mercy, to grant it to apply it. If all we give is justice we will live in a cruel and judgemental world, and we of all people should know that we are the least qualified to judge anyone.
We need to look with a merciful eye on those we feel are doing wrong. We need to look with a merciful eye on those we know are doing wrong. We need to love mercy and to seek for it wherever we can. And that is hard. I find it hard, it’s easier to judge, it’s also more comfortable because it elevates me in my own mind, seperates me from others and reassures me ‘I would never do that.’.
It is a constant battle.
You want to know what God wants of us? You are dissatisfied with your calling because you aren’t a missionary or a singer or a priest? Just try loving mercy for a while and then decide if God has given you something small and unimportant and easy to do.