Tuesday, December 07, 2004

doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God

one of the ideas that's been going round my head a bit after last week is this idea of the difference between justice and mercy. Maclaren illustrates it this way:
if you're standing at the side of a river and you see someone drowning and you help them and pull them out of the river, that's mercy. Perhaps, as you're standing there you see more people - lots perhaps - also in danger of drowning. so you help them too. at some point though, someone needs to go upstream and find out why all of these people are ending up in the river and hopefully stopping it happening. that's justice. we need both and the church needs to be involved in both. some people in the church will be better at one and some better at the other. we need people who have a vision for feeding the hungry, and people who have a vision for dealing with the causes of their hunger (trade justice etc.).
but we must take this more seriously. i think it's all about how we understand the gospel - but i'll say some more about that at another time.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

In the past I have tended to think of "to act justly" as being about how I act in my own lifestyle - very much a personal response, e.g. that I am expected to treat others fairly and justly. Where as "loving mercy" being more all incompassing and about how I respond to other peoples' lifestyles. I think I am often more inclined to judge the way others live rather than treat them mercifully. It seems to me the distinction between to "love" and to "act" must have some relevance. Otherwise why not say "to act justly and mercifully" or "to love justice and mercy" ? Any thoughts ?

Rich said...

I think that's a great illustration and an important distinction to make. My fear is always that churches "bolt on" a justice and mercy agenda, which appeals to a few and risks never being noticed by everyone else. We can then say "my church does X, Y and Z" and not have to do it ourselves, nor have to take personal responsibility for a daily expression of them both.

I exaggerate to make the point, and I'm more guilty than most I'm sure. My ongoing question remains: how do we make this INTEGRAL to who we are individually and corporately ?

Matt said...

Ahaaa - that, Rich, is the million dollar question! i have some thoughts which i am not quite ready to share as to how we can make justice and mercy more integrated. i will get around to it soon though. you're right - i think that classic evangelical theology lacks a coherent basis for justice and mercy which is one of its biggest weaknesses. thanks for your comment though - always nice to see you've stopped by!

keith said...

Good to see someone is thinking about this. I look forward to hearing more...