Saturday, 18 May 2019

Justice and Mercy

This is in part a continuation or restatement of the previous post, Love and Law. Sometimes expressing the same thing in a slightly different way brings it into greater focus.

Everything in this world is a form of some divine reality. Often a highly distorted or even perverted form, but nothing takes its rise from nothing. Everything is based on something real. For example, in the political arena, liberalism can be seen as the secularisation of mercy. Likewise, conservatism takes a similar role with regard to justice.

Thus, we can say that secularisation drives a wedge between divine justice and mercy, separating them and turning them into rivals instead of two halves of one whole. This separation can only be resolved in God. Only in him can justice and mercy be properly reconciled so that each is given its due and neither takes too dominant a position. Justice and mercy have their rise in the spiritual and when politicised or brought down to the secular world they can give birth to false and counterfeit forms which distort what they are.

In this way extreme liberalism turns into immorality and hates virtue while extreme conservatism becomes tyrannical and oppressive. In the West today, the modern irreligious liberal uses the excuse of tolerance and unity to dismantle truth (necessarily a separative thing since because there is the true, there must also be the false) and weaken real spirituality, though he may accept a version that panders to his political ideology and therefore isn't spiritual at all. In certain Islamic countries, the extreme conservative, through too fixed an adherence to the letter of the law, banishes mercy and compassion from his heart (notwithstanding their mention in his scripture) and so his religion is hard, unyielding and crushes openness to the spirit.

Each detests the other but neither is acceptable to God who is truth and love combined. And yet it seems clear that, although God is Love, he must primarily be Truth since love is part of truth more than truth is part of love. Just as duality (love) must be rooted in unity (truth). At the same time, in practical terms you cannot separate the two. They are always and forever part of the same root reality.

Justice and mercy can only properly be understood as expressions of the One God which means that only those who acknowledge God can balance the two correctly within themselves or even understand what they really are. This, it should be understood, is not an intellectual matter. When your heart and will are aligned with God, when you situate your being in his, you will automatically respond to life in terms of justice and mercy. You won't have to think about how much of each one should apply to any given situation. That is for the ideologues who look at life through the distorting prism of a theory to which they then have to force themselves and everything else to adapt. But for the spiritual person, all responses are completely natural with no thought required and no theory to be obeyed.

If God were not just, there could be no truth. If he were not merciful, there would be no love. But justice must come before mercy even if mercy may sometimes override justice. That is because mercy only makes sense in the context of justice. Its very existence implies the prior existence of justice since without justice there would be no need for mercy. That is not to say one is more true than the other for both are fully true, fully real. But in the same way as the Father comes before the Son, so it is with justice and mercy. There are both aspects of divine reality but there is still a kind of hierarchy and this relationship has implications for things both in this world and the next.

1 comment:

edwin said...

Justice and mercy have to do with discipline: how to set the wrongdoer right.They involve judgmental authority, which most of us exercise in regard to our children. In raising my own family of three boys, I could not apply the same standard in each case. One had a quick intuitive sensibility: a soft word of reproof or a disappointed look went straight to his heart and he saw his mistake. Another was rather obdurate and needed firmer handling and external punishments. A third required explanations: if he could be brought to understand, then he would amend his ways. An onlooker might have thought that I favored one over another; that I treated one with mercy and another with strict justice. Such was not the case. Love was at the root of each approach and dictated its particular method. You are right in saying that the secularization of moral values leads to false oppositions of the virtues, but in setting out civil statutes, I don't think it is possible to apply the sort of judgment one uses in dealing with individual children whose temperaments one knows and loves. It may be that prescribed punishments under the law may prove too harsh for some, too lenient for others, but an objective standard is the only realistic possibility in the administration of criminal and civil justice. Liberals want to psychologize wrongdoers and excuse them; conservatives insist that the law must be upheld and mitigating factors be subordinated to it. The only perfect justice comes from God, not the court system. To keep order in society is both justice and mercy, although individuals may not always receive their due of either. In the ultimate sense, justice is mercy are one thing. In the relative sense, they can be seen as separable, but this is, I believe, a mistake.