the Benign Perogative

What happens when we lose hope of being shown mercy and receiving justice? It’s interesting that those who have been the victims of injustice seek more for mercy than justice. I think it’s because mercy is the process of being seen, heard and understood. Justice is the affirmation of true boundaries. Without mercy there can be no real justice. Justice without mercy is arbitrary a kind of pseudo-justice that is rarely just. Sometimes we fear mercy, hiding behind the excuse that we ‘want justice to be done’; the reality is that deep down we know that mercy is inordinately powerful, able to transform our simplistic notions of justice into the creative, life forming, God honouring thing that Justice really is. If we pursue mercy, our yearnings for ‘justice’ (perhaps more accurately, vengeance) may never be realised – mercy opens us up to seeing the world differently and allowing our paradigm to be challenged. Mercy is dangerous to the status quo.

It’s not surprising therefore that mercy is hard to come by in this world; that when mercy is shown, people experience the face of God, and when there is no hope of mercy, people give up the will to continue in this life. There is one exception, documented in the concentration camps of Nazzi Germany by Dr Victor Frankl, even in the face of no hope of mercy, some somehow managed to find within themselves the capacity to love, hope and live for another person or cause. Life was no longer about experiencing mercy one’s self but about contributing to the mercy of another. We were created to exist in a setting where mercy and justice are normal, but when these are missing in our immediate circumstances we have a capacity to bring them to others.

We have been made wonderfully complex, carrying eternity in our hearts yet incapable of fathoming it. We all have the power to bring hope and dash it to pieces. We each hold the lives of others in the balance whether through the weakness of dominance or the power of mercy, justice and compassion. Yet frighteningly we seem completely unaware of this. Until that is, someone comes along and demonstrates the force of agape and we catch for a moment a fleeting shadow of our own capacity to bring hope and life, or to destroy it.

I just watched the benign prerogative, an episode in series 5 of the West Wing…. and we are getting ready for this year’s British Pilgrimage of Hope which starts this weekend.

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Capital ‘H’

I recently visited a friend’s church and heard a sermon about hope. It was helpful, not because I agreed with everything I heard but it put me to work to better understand and articulate for myself what Hope is about. I realise that once again our English language and western idiom may have cast shadows on a beautiful jewel of our faith. For us the words ‘hope’ and ‘dream’ can be interchangeable, they carry profound, positive, emotive meaning. They are what can lift us up and get us through dark or simply, dull moments in life. They can motivate us to action, for the simple reason that they depend on us in order to become reality; this is where some of their potency lies. We need hopes and dreams to work towards, to aspire to, to rally around. They can be good, healthy things to have but their very nature is that they are never guaranteed.

In the scriptures however we hear of another Hope, I now refer to it with a capital ‘H’. This Hope, in complete contrast to ‘hope’, is a certainty, guaranteed and totally independent of us or any action we would take or not take. It is like the hope that tomorrow follows today (until Christ returns that is!); and there is nothing I can do to change that. As we explore further we see that this Hope is in fact God himself, Christ, our Saviour, our absolute certainty. This is Christian Hope. Not that everything will happen tomorrow the way we ‘hope’, but that regardless of what happens He is there to meet us tomorrow – that, HE is our Hope. So this Hope is the Hope that brings life and meaning on the mountain top as well as in the valley.

So when we ask each other what we have put our hope in, the meaning we carry is often not of Hope but that of comfortable, purposeful, positive, dare I say  happy ‘hopes and dreams’. Even when I have put my hope in God’s action I get into trouble, I seek after his work in my life and put my hope in that. Not that this is a bad thing in itself, but what if he chooses to use this difficult suffering to bring me closer to him rather than take it away as he is perfectly able to do? Is God not to be relied on? No, that’s not it at all. But that is why he calls me to put my Hope in him and I can then trust his action, his purposes, his will – even if (especially when) I do not understand them.

So, when I speak of ‘hope’ but give it the weight of ‘Hope’. I do you, my brothers and sisters a disservice, because the only thing we were made to rightly Hope for is God himself. He is the Hope that will never disappoint.

As we head into 2013, let us fix our eyes on Jesus our living Hope, walking out to meet him knowing he will never leave us, fail us or forsake us, whether we have to walk the mountain tops or the darkest valleys.