“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
What is justice? The first thing that I think of is a court of law. I also think of fairness. Justice, in a broad sense, is giving someone what they deserve; not more or less. This can refer to a legal situation – we say that justice has been done when a convicted criminal gets the sentence the law prescribes – but in our everyday lives acting justly refers to the way we treat other people. That means not overreacting to things, holding grudges and punishing people out of proportion to whatever it is they have done wrong. The challenge here is that to act perfectly justly you need to have a perfect sense of right and wrong. I’d be amazed if anyone has that. But this is a challenge, and an encouragement, to try to know when something is right or wrong and to act accordingly. To me, this sounds like a zero-tolerance policy for wrong, or sin, but also a willingness to react well to things that are right. But how do we know what’s right or wrong? Or, to put this question in a more postmodern way, who are we to judge?
As well as being called to act justly, God calls us to love mercy. In some ways, mercy tempers the justice. Mercy reminds us that all humans are fallible and that people can change. Mercy changes wholesale condemnation into a more positive form of correction, looking at the way people can change and looking at the beauty that people have being made in the image of God. Justice and mercy have to go together. A similar way of looking at it is the pair of ‘grace and truth’. In the context of talking to someone about something that you perceive to be wrong, you need to tell them the truth or you’ll get nowhere, but you need grace to have any chance of the truth having an impact. It seems to me that in this way mercy transforms justice from something blind to something that considers humanity.
WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD
For me, this final part of the three instructions brings them all together and makes the first two possible. If we don’t learn to be humble with God then we’ll never have a clue what justice and mercy really are. Humility is knowing that God knows more than us and admitting that we need His guidance in our lives. Through this relationship and willingness to learn and develop (‘walk’ implies a progressive journey) we will learn what God sees as right and wrong (that’s our authority for it, in answer to the question I asked at the end of the first paragraph) and we will learn how to be merciful whilst still fighting against the sin in the world. It can be daunting when people talk about learning from God, especially if you’re not used to hearing from Him, but one of the best places to start is to approach the Bible in such a way that you are willing to let it shape your views, and not impose your views on it. I know that’s hard. We all have prejudices and bias, but humility is letting go of those as far as possible, admitting that we might have got things wrong, and letting God shape us.
Why have I written this now? I am passionate about unity among Christians, and when I look around me, especially at social media, I don’t see it. I see more conflict than ever over a variety of issues. I see Christians hurting each other. I see ‘justice’ taken too far (remember that ultimately, final justice belongs to God, all we are able to do is to point out sin where we see it and try to help people fight against it), I see mercy ignored and I see humility shouted down and denied a voice. This is not how we were made to live. I don’t know if anything can be done about it, and this post is probably just a drop in the ocean, but I hope and I pray that something changes and Christians realise these conflicts aren’t helping anyone.