Two weeks ago, a friend of mine saw tragedy strike her community when a young man shot and killed his parents and ten-year-old sister.
Situations like this cry out for justice. Innocent blood was shed. A family was torn apart by a senseless act of violence. This quiet community will never be the same as it comes to terms with this loss.
How do we serve justice?
Often justice is synonymous with punishment. In order for rightness to be restored, in order for balance to be returned, the one who did wrong must receive some form of chastisement.
But balance can never truly be restored in these instances. No punishment brings back those who were lost. No chastisement can heal the remaining members of the family who must live with the knowledge that their brother murdered their parents and sister. No penalty meted can undo those events.
How then do we move on? How do we find justice when there is none to be found?
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13, NIV
Two words that seem to be at odds with one another.
And yet we can find justice in mercy.
When we forgive, we release the need for balance. We release the need for fairness or rightness or equity.
Mercy doesn’t change the events. It doesn’t undo that which caused pain. It doesn’t erase consequences.
But mercy offers us a more powerful choice than punishment. Where punishment seeks to even things out, mercy seeks to elevate both parties. It allows us to behave in a way completely contrary to the actions of the one deserving justice. Mercy rises above the status quo and allows us to see the best not only in the person on whom we bestow mercy, but in ourselves as well.
Thankfully, most of us will not be faced with such dramatic opportunities to bestow mercy. But we will all have occasion to show compassion when it is undeserved. To offer forgiveness when it has not been sought. To be kind when it would be easier to be fair.
When you are offered this choice, how will you make injustice just?