Balancing Justice and Mercy

(Bob) #1

Hello All,

I am wondering about your thoughts on something that has been eating me up as of late which is the correct way to respond to harmful and hurtful behavior. Up to this point in my life, I think one sin pattern that I have not fallen into is anger. In general, I think I have observed Jesus’ words to “turn the other cheek” so to say, and accept the bad with the good. This is not necessarily easy, but ultimately I believe it is the right way to show others who may not know God a paltry example of His mercy, if nothing else but to make them think.

When Jesus confronts the Pharisees he responds, “I desire mercy, not sacrifices…”. Later on in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells Peter that He must forgive someone who sins against him 77 times (I take this to mean an infinite amount of times). I know that this is how God welcomes me and all sinners back, and it is clear to me from the Gospel accounts that forgiveness is an attribute which we should all aspire to exude. And yet, I can’t help but think this opens oneself up to be “walked all over”, “taken advantage of”, etc.

A recent situation that has happened to me has left me in a poor spot in this regard. I’ll leave the specifics out of this post, but I can say I was hurt orders of magnitude worse than I ever have before, and that for maybe the first time in my life, I genuinely wish unhappiness and constant, unending distress upon the person who put me in the situation. I don’t want to feel this way. Jesus is a shining example demonstrating to us this kind of thinking is destructive. One of the most powerful stories of Jesus’ life on Earth in my mind was his prayer for those nailing his perfectly sinless body to a cross in the book of Luke. In less hurtful situations, this is something I have been able to do, but this time I am truthfully unable to do.

So my question boils down to how to

  1. Better forgive when it is very difficult to do so, even knowing how God forgives me over and over.
  2. Overcome feelings of retribution and the like, knowing it is God’s to give freely.
  3. Better come to grips with God’s teachings on the seemingly dichotomous attributes of justice and mercy

I will also humbly ask you all for your prayers in this regard.


(Kevin Hurst) #2

Hello Liam,
I really appreciate your question on this. It is something that I myself have wrestled with in my life.
When I was a younger man I was someone that always tried to do what is right and get along with people the best I could. I was a very conscientious person. One time though in my middle teenage years I was accused by some authorities in my life of doing something that I did not do. They were school authorities and church authorities. I felt I was humiliated in front of my friends and was made to apologize to those that I had supposedly offended. I carried that hurt with me for a number of years. It was fun to be angry. It was fun to sit back and rejoice every time I saw one of these men get hurt or mocked or whatever by someone else.
I wanted justice for what had been done to me. This was not right.
But as I got older, and began reading the Bible, I realized that this is not the example of my Lord.
Jesus tells us to pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us. Prayer helps us to begin to see our own hearts. Prayer recognizes the sovereignty of God. I took Jesus at His Word. He told me to pray for those that hurt us. Over time as I would pray for those that had done this to me, I began to learn to love those men.
Jesus says, “Vengeance is mine I will repay”. When I can learn to lay down my desire for vengeance at the foot of the cross, Jesus can then pick it up and bring about justice as He sees fit. Will not the judge of all the earth do that which is right? I know my heart good enough to know that I would make a poor judge:smiley:
My dad grew up in a terrible home. He was beaten as a boy by his dad to the point that he would go screaming to his mom for protection. Many years later my grandpa became incapable to care for himself and he asked his children to help care for him. Most of my aunts and uncles did not want to help because of all the memories from the past. My dad decided he would help my grandpa. He found it hard though to help because of his own memories. One day my grandpa called my dad for help because he was stuck in his chair.(My grandpa was a very large man). Dad went over to his house to help and realized Grandpa had not had a bath for a couple of days. Before he got him out of the chair, Dad began to wash grandpa with a washcloth. As he was kneeling down to wash Grandpa’s feet, the thought hit my Dad - this is what Jesus did for Judas, the one that was suppose to be his friend but instead betrayed him. Dad said it was at that moment that it all came together for him. He felt it was at that moment that he truly forgave my Grandpa for all that he had done to him.
It may take a number of years to fully come to forgive someone for what they have done. It took my dad some 30 years.
What we need to do I believe is to do what is right to others the best be can. That is doing justly. Then to give mercy to others as much as possible when they wrong us and let God do the revenging if there needs to be vengeance. These things come by walking humbly with our Lord. As Ravi says, First communion with God, then reunion with our brother, then we pass on the trust to the next generation
P.S. Some of those very men that had wronged me many years before. I now work along side of in ministry and I call them brother.
Praying for you brother,

(Andrea L) #3

Hi Bob, it’s so uplifting to see your sincere desire to act accordingly to Jesus’s teachings!
Putting my answer to a nutshell: forgiveness is a choice not a feeling. Unfortunately these days people tend to think “I forgive when I feel like”, but that’s just the opposite way round. I make a decision to forgive, declare it with my mouth, then - through God’s work in me - my feeling will change accordingly.
My personal testimony is in align with Kevin’s dad’s story: I have never ever thought I would or could feel real, genuine love in my heart for my mother. That seemed absolutely impossible. Still, quite a few months after God led me to declare forgiveness and my love for her (I tell you, that was hard, every cell in my body was protesting against it, still I pushed myself to do it, God have me strength) I felt the impossible : love pouring out from my heart towards my mum, for the very first time in my entire life.
What I’d point out is that it took a long time even after my choice and action to forgive. So I’d encourage you to stick to your declaration, and ask and let God to work on your heart and feelings. Doubts might rise up, feeling of unforgiveness and condemnation likely will try to sneak in, just keep repeating to yourself: I have already forgiven. I think forgiveness is not measured by feelings (they can lie!) but it is measured by the spoken word, which you have already done.
I hope it helps!

(Mitchell Paukner) #4

Hey Bob!

I’ve been spending a great deal of time working through similar questions over the past 2 years, so I can share with you where I’m at on that journey.

A big shift occurred for me when I learned what forgiveness actually means when it is being used in scripture. The Hebrew word for forgiveness is “nasah” which means “to lift, carry, take”. For most of my life I tended to frame forgiveness as being more analogous to ignoring the wrong that was done to me. It can be rather easy to interpret “turn the other cheek” in this manner, but there is a major distinction between Biblical forgiveness and what I previously mentioned.

I found that Jesus’ parable of the debtors(the one in Matthew 18 or in Luke 7) actually establishes that distinction in a usually overlooked aspect of the story. Jesus uses a story where what is being forgiven is very clear and even calculable. In this story you have the debtor who is carrying a financial burden(they need to pay back a loan) and the lender who ultimately chooses to forgive that financial burden. It isn’t the case that in forgiving that financial burden it simply vanishes(as would happen if it were merely ignored). Instead, it is transferred to the man who forgave it. He made a choice to “to lift, carry, take” the financial burden from the debtor. It doesn’t then get discarded, but is faithfully dealt with as long as it isn’t repaid.

In life we encounter situations in which forgiveness doesn’t have as concrete a conclusion. I once heard Ravi define sin as a violation of God, whether Him, His image, or His good creation. When the sacredness of God’s image on us is violated by another we are faced with a decision to demand justice or to ultimately forgive, and thus bear the burden of having been violated instead.

Of the difficult messages of the Bible to carry out, I think this one is safely atop the list.

A couple years ago I had the privilege of asking Ravi himself a question about forgiveness on this forum(Ravi’s answer). At the time I was deeply concerned with what I thought must be unforgiveness in my heart brought on by the persistence of grief associated with having been violated. In hindsight, I believe that was actually evidence that I was in the process of forgiving. I had been choosing to bear that burden instead of “getting my pound of flesh” as Ravi said in his response.

You mentioned a very valid concern of this forgiveness opening us up to being taken advantage of. Remember that Jesus knows we are sheep among wolves and calls us to be as cunning as serpents(Matthew 10:16). To take the metaphor as far as it might go, a cunning serpent certainly knows to avoid getting walked on. Thus, so should we.

As for your third question regarding the dichotomous nature of justice and mercy we have to keep in mind when it is our place to forgive and when it is not. If a man strikes me, only I am in a position to bear the burden of that violation(I am to turn my cheek). If that man were to strike you I am no longer in a position to forgive(it would be nonsensical for me to turn my cheek). When you yourself are the one who has been violated, the message of Jesus is to forgive or else not be forgiven for your own transgression(Matthew 6:15). When your neighbor has been violated and they choose to demand justice, the Biblical command is that we as a culture would give that neighbor the justice they are owed. In this way we can both act justly and love mercy(Micah 6:8).

Just know that I sympathize very deeply with your situation, and at this point I just want to encourage you in your journey to forgiving whoever has violated you! Something oddly beautiful about being a Christian is we have the greatest opportunities to be a reflection of Christ into the world in the moments of our greatest suffering. My prayer for you tonight is that you would find the wisdom and strength to act in a way that is uniquely and distinctly Christian, and that is to show mercy!

Take care,
Mitchell Paukner

(Lakshmi Mehta) #5

@Seeker, I am so sorry to hear of the hurt you have had to experience. I am agreeing in prayer with you for God to turn this around for your good, to free you from negative thoughts and enable you supernaturally to walk in continual forgiveness. I have found comfort in reading Psalms, where David expresses his hurt of being falsely accused, rejected or attacked. Praying for the offender, commitment to forgive continually independent of feelings, time to process the feelings and relying on Jesus’s forgiveness are all absolutely critical as already discussed. What has helped me practically is reminding myself once I have forgiven the offense that, “It is finished”! So, we commit to not dwell in our mind on it, not use it to justify self or let it be used against the person in anyway in thought, actions or speech. We gain the strength to forgive by seeking God’s desires for them rather than focusing on our unmet desires from them.

Forgiving is not same as forgetting or minimizing an offense that would be wrong in God’s eyes. While sometimes we overlook an offense and just forgive the person before God, there are times when forgiveness has to be followed up with loving confrontation while looking out for them. In the case of a major offense or if you have to deal with the person who has hurt you on a regular basis, it may be best to work toward a resolution if possible, with additional help if needed. If we avoid such efforts completely, a negative pattern of behavior can continue or an unresolved issue can pick up steam over time and blow up out of proportion at a later time causing even more damage. One book that has really helped me is, The Peacemakers by Ken Sande. I have attached a summary of that book which you may find helpful. What I have shared is partly from that book and partly from my own experiences. There may be times after you have tried everything, the other party refuses to repent and at those times we just have to establish some boundaries while continuing to maintain a forgiving attitude with absolutely no expectations. While hurtful experiences are difficult to endure, they have also been the times of greater reliance on God. May God’s will in your situation become clearer to you and may you be comforted in God’s deep love.peacemaking_principles_pamphlet.pdf (1.0 MB)

(Bob) #6

awesome testimony, thank you!

(Bob) #7

This is a roadmap that I am going to try and follow, thank you very much!

(Bob) #8

that is an interesting point about self v. other and one that I’ll have to think about some more, I appreciate the response.

(Bob) #9

Thank you for the resource and prayer, I appreciate the response

(Sieglinde) #10