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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Mercy Looks like You and Me

Recently I have been struck by three lines in the Caleb prayer for Wales. They go like this: ‘Oh High King of Heaven, have mercy on our land. Revive your church.’ Every time I pray those words, something rises in my heart and I picture God’s people pouring out his mercy and grace in every situation they find themselves in.

I don’t know why but for years I realise I have thought of God having mercy on our land as some ethereal, theological concept; a transaction that takes place ‘in heaven’ (wherever that is!), resulting in some cosmic sort of absence of God’s wrath. And look, I am guessing there are elements of truth in that, but the more time I spend with him, the more I realise there is Oh, so much more to it than that!

I looked at the beatitudes again the other day, so often I have read them as comforting words of reassurance of my own place in God’s love. But then it occurred to me that this was Jesus’ description of the things that matter to God, he was saying God notices this stuff and he cares and responds in this way. And then the question came strong and soft; if those who mourn are comforted and therefore called blessed, how will they be comforted? It wasn’t a big jump from there to James saying its not OK to say to your hungry, naked brother, be clothed, be filled…..you have to do something. It seems we have a role to play in God’s answer to our prayer for his mercy.

God has done everything necessary for mercy to triumph over judgment, but he didn’t leave it at that, as some self-satisfied complacent person like me would. He remains present with his created world, demonstrating and reminding us in infinite ways of his mercy and unfailing love. And when his church is revived we will join with him in this plan; our nation will be blessed not so much by the razzmatazz of supernatural intervention we love so dearly and therefore usually completely miss the point of… but by the tangible reality of Emmanuel, God with us expressing his unfailing love and mercy. As the church wakes up we will begin to demonstrate like we haven’t done for a while, the presence of God, his unfailing love, his steadfastness and long suffering. We will be as ready to bring the healing that comes quickly, as the healing that comes with long years, because both are expressions of the miracle of God present with us in his mercy.

Perhaps it is in fact in the long and painful journey of bereavement or depression, terminal and degenerative illness or a daughter with autism, that God’s unfailing steadfast love, his unfathomable understanding, his unending faithfulness are most needed and most clearly felt. Perhaps it is the church’s vocation to be the mercy of God, walking with the people through the valley of shadows as much as the mountain peaks…for as long as it takes.

In a discussion recently someone pointed out that altruism is not a distinctive of Christianity or the church, it is found in many cultures and religions. Sometimes we have used this argument as a reason for not getting our hands dirty and letting our hearts be touched; its been an excuse for us to focus on more ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ preoccupations. But could it be the season that altruism is not a distinctive of the Christian church is that God is so committed to demonstrating his mercy and grace that he will do it through anyone who’s awake enough to respond?

So, I guess I am left with the question for myself, how willing am I to be God’s mercy to those around me? Am I willing to walk the hard yards, patiently with God as he makes all things new, as we wait for the fullness of his Kingdom to come, when everything will at last be set to rights? When there’ll be no more tears or pain or death? Until that day, am I willing to be his hands and feet expressing his steadfast love, his great faithfulness and his unending mercy? And, will you join me?

Mercy by Webinar

I am part of a wonderful, quirky movement that I like to believe is precious to the Father. We prefer to be together than apart. We prefer to start business with time to hear how each other is doing. We prefer it when we are rooted in God’s love and directed by him. We prefer to make major decisions through a process of consensus whereby everyone moves together, sensitive to God’s spirit. We can look strange to those who are just meeting us for the first time… especially given that all these things remain as true at the core of who we are now when we number in the hundreds and are spread across the globe, as they were decades ago when we were a smaller movement limited to one country.

Rather like my own walk through life as an individual however, its easy for a movement too, to lose sight of those things that are precious to us and remind us of who we are. Sometimes fear and mistrust creeps in and we tell ourselves that we are on our own, and that is what we prefer after all. Who in their right mind would think that its possible to walk in authentic fellowship when there are so many of us spread across so many countries? Who, we ask ourselves?

Two weeks ago about 20 of us connected across 15 time zones, continental reps and other leaders in the movement. We were together by webinar, for a total of 8 hours over two days. We had never done it quite like this before. We heard each other, we saw each other, we began to share our worlds together. Not just the things that were happening, but how we were going, personally. Not just the pretty, easy stuff, but the stuff of pilgrims on a long journey. Not just ourselves but those that God had called us to live and serve with. Not just the victories but the defeats and the questions we were living with our hearts and lives. Spread out across the globe, we were closer than we have been for a long while.

Mercy, like empathy is knowing what life is like for another; we humans were created for fellowship. I thank God for a moment when we became more human, when we began to be present to one another. Thank God for webinar!