Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Needing What I Cannot Give

They declared a young man something other than what they thought he should be.

They ganged up on him.

They beat him to within an inch of his life.

They tortured him.

And he said, Father, forgive them.

I must remember where I stand in this story.

I am not innocent. I am not a bystander. I am the abuser of Jesus. I am complicit in his death.

And each day I continue to abuse the gifts and love he gives me through his resurrection.

I am sorry to admit that despite it being Lent, I have thought little about Jesus's suffering until this week. But holding my precious, unmarred baby in my arms, my mind's eye sees a young man in pain, echoes of sad and shocking news that has fallen close to home this week.

I have been thinking about the words justice, mercy, forgiveness, and how supernatural it is for God to embody and dispense them all. I am far from this. Too often my stated desire for justice is really for vengeance; for mercy, one-sided; for forgiveness, selfish. I want these things for myself and those I love but not for those I hate but yes, someone else loves.

Justice. Where there are crimes, justice should be done. But in an angry heart I want it not just done but done to the perpetrators. Not just that the scales should be balanced but that the hammer should fall. This is why ultimate justice should not, cannot, ever be for me to decide.

Forgiveness. I do want to see forgiveness--for the victims, so their hearts will not be poisoned. Justice can draw out the arrow, but only forgiveness can heal the wound. But can there be forgiveness without repentance? There cannot be reconciliation . . . but I think there can be forgiveness offered without request. Indeed there must be, else we would all stand condemned by a thousand offenses a day we fail to even recognize we have committed against our brothers and our God.

Which brings us, perhaps, to mercy . . . the thing I cannot now bring myself to desire for others even though I would beg it for myself or my own. I feel it would undermine justice. How can they coexist? But if mercy were fair, it would not be mercy; it would be justice, just as something paid for is not a gift. Mercy is God's gift to give. Mercy is a sovereign God's right even as justice is his requirement. Only a sovereign God can be merciful and yet ensure justice is fulfilled. And now we are back to the story again, wondering how dare we ask for mercy after what we have done yet knowing we cannot stand without it.

Sometimes we know not what we should ask. But we know a man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering, rich in mercy, and willing to forgive. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

“You can’t conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

—Graham Greene

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