Given some raging political issues gripping the nation today, many people are trying to figure out the proper relationship between the demands of justice and the gratuity of mercy.
Everyone presumes, rightly, that justice and mercy should go together. There is no mercy without justice, nor justice without mercy. Many saints, popes, brilliant people, etc., through the ages have enunciated that.
We just have to remind ourselves that this ideal of mercy and justice being together and mutually affecting each other is precisely an ideal that we all the time should try to approximate.
But we should never forget that our approximation can never be perfect as to be permanent and applicable at all times and in all cases and situations. A psalm reminds us of this: “Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is just before you.” (Ps 143,2)
And that’s simply because there are many things on which we base our sense of justice and mercy that we do not know with finality. Our knowledge of things will always be perfectible. We are actually surrounded by an ocean of mysteries, for man himself, despite the many things we know about him, is a great mystery.
St. Augustine voiced out this truth when he said: “Don’t you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?” He also said: “Who can map out the various forces at play in one’s soul? Man is a great depth, O Lord. The hairs of his head are easier by far to count than his feeling, the movements of his heart.”
Of course, this obvious truth is no excuse not to try our best to articulate in some legal system and rule of law the relationship between justice and mercy. But neither should we exaggerate such effort as to forget that we have to contend precisely with an ocean of mysteries. Whatever decision, resolution, conclusion we make in any given case should defer to this truth.
What can guide us properly in this common predicament of ours is to look at the example of Christ. This and no other should be the source of our light, not some ideology, philosophy or theology which in the end should also be inspired by the example of Christ, if they are to be a helpful guide, since Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” for us. In him alone is justice and mercy fused to perfection, never our own systems.
And what do we see in Christ? Well, he taught us who we are, how we are supposed to be, to speak, to act, what commandments and rules we ought to follow, etc. In the end, he offered his life on the cross. This last he did given the complicated situation man, whom he came to save, was and continues to be in.
Thus, the worst injustice was committed. The killing of Christ who is God made man. There can be no worse injustice and evil than this. And yet that most horrible injustice occasioned the best act of mercy—our own salvation, our own reconciliation with our own Creator and Father.
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