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.