Friday, June 17, 2011

'Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful"

"Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful." C.S Lewis, The Horse and His Boy.
Mercy is always good, right?  How is it that mercy can become bad?  This quote by C.S. Lewis is such a deep truth it is hard to know where to begin.

It is possible to be too merciful, that is, mercy must be tempered by other attributes, including judgement.  Mercy alone will result in harming the recipient; the recipient will never learn or grow, but will be stuck in a pitiful state.

God is a God of love; but His love is tempered (dare I say that?) by other attributes such as wrath and judgement.  If He were only a benevolent grandfather who only ever protected us from everything, we would never grow and become strong.  It is true that He gives us good gifts, "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, falling down from the Father of heavenly lights." (James 1:17)  Yet, truly good gifts that are good for us, come not only in a benevolent form, but also in the form of judgement and wrath and pain and suffering.

I know that I struggle with this. I have a friend who deserves much mercy; he has had a very rough life.  I want to show love to him and help him grow. I also do not want to be an enabler; I want him to be healthy and develop into a person of character. In order to do that, I struggle to find the balance between mercy, love, and "judgement."

Before leaving this subject, it is important to emphasize one thing, namely, the Church has a bad reputation in the world as being overly judgmental.  The Church must renew its commitment to love; to being the hands and feet of Christ.  After all, "they shall know we are Christians by our love." (a paraphrase of John 13:35).

Yet, all attributes, even "good attributes", must be tempered, otherwise, as this quote from C.S. Lewis highlights, ultimately left unchecked it will have a devastating impact on the recipient.  It is a difficult balance to achieve.  Join me in praying that we can achieve this tricky balance, both in our personal lives and as the Christian community, because it is only through the direction of the Holy Spirit that we shall achieve true love and mercy tempered with judgment and discernment.

What say you? Do you struggle achieving this balance?  Is there a secret to achieving it?


  1. But who are we to be judges? I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

  2. We are required to judge. We must judge between good and evil, and teach our children that certain behaviors are clearly evil. Forgiveness can only be granted when sin has been acknowledged and forgiveness sought.

    1. Good points. We are to judge with righteous judgment [John 7:24]. Paul castigated Christians who didn't judge properly [1 Cor 6:2-5].
      I recall a lady who had judged a situation biblically and someone telling her, "Judge not lest thou be judged." Ironically, the person who made that comment was the one judging without righteous judgment! The latter's judgment was an emotional reaction and not bearing in mind 1 Thess 5:21 or 1 John 4:1. The rebuke fitted in with the biblical version of hypocrisy: when a person does something of which they accuse others.
      Some people don't understand the difference between righteous judgment and condemnation.