I’m a lot like Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, so my sister tells me. Mercy is my strength, while teaching is Mikaela’s, which frequently makes for some opposite yet complementing perspectives. Just recently, Mikaela and I were both involved in the same situation, and when talking it over afterwards, Mikaela asked if I had sensed reticence in the person we had been communicating with—a certain unwillingness to help us out. I hadn’t noticed anything of the sort—wasn’t the person just a bit distracted? Yet, in the next week, the matter revealed itself to be according to Mikaela’s discerning. How had I missed this person’s subtle communications and excused what signs I did observe, yet Mikaela had discerned the true heart of the matter? This was not a huge shortcoming in this minor example, but what about when I need to discipline a child or discern that a rift in a relationship has occurred and needs mending, and my vision is too rose-colored to notice?
Don’t get me wrong—in some ways it can be helpful to go through life with rose-colored blinders fastened securely over my eyes. It is easier to avoid little hurts and offences. It definitely invites less pain to me. Indeed, it is good not to hold grudges, not to hug bitterness close like a friend. But it is also good to live in reality, saying out loud the truth that we all are fallible, and we all make mistakes. It is good to live in honesty about failures in my own life as well as in the lives of others rather than in denial.
I want to give people second chances, excuse a fault, withold discipline, all because I do not want to cause them pain. But if what someone needs is to feel the consequences of their choice the first time, be called on their blind spot, and experience discipline, and it is my Biblical responsibility to do so, then it is the worst kind of hatred to protect a loved one from that. if I can sit by and refuse to offer honest help when the matter is in my jurisdiction, then it turns me from the loving Jane to the sadly pitiable Mr. Bennet who showed bitter lenience to his wild daughter.
As a music teacher, when a student plays a piece imperfectly, the temptation to simply pass him onto the next piece is not very strong anymore because I have seen the results of such a bitter mercy. The child will slog on, mistakes compounding, confidence dwindling, practice time shrinking, until such discouragement and frustration sets in that he gives up.
For those of us who struggle with applying mercy correctly, we need to keep in mind that God’s mercy is rich and unfathomable, yet always just. He always keeps His word, yet He is always ready to forgive. He did not give Adam and Eve a reprieve from the immediate consequences they chose by their acts of rebellion, yet He promised them a Savior from eternal death. Jesus died that He might save us from our sins, and yet we still experience the loving reproof of our Heavenly Father when we stray. Even the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament reflects God’s perfect balance of mercy and justice, as the mercy seat lay over the just and unbending Testimony that God gave His people.
“You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of
.”-Exodus 25:21-22 Israel
What would the Gospel be without justice? It would be an empty shell, with no need for God incarnate to descend from Heaven to save us from sins God was not holding us accountable for. Yet what would the Gospel be without mercy? It would be a hard façade, still with no God incarnate to be willing to descend to earth to suffer, to redeem us from the very sins that would put Him on the cross. May my life be neither an empty shell nor a hard façade, but a beautiful reflection of Christ Himself.