Christians, are we arbiters of social justice or dispensers of grace to society?

The cross was the greatest social injustice in history, but no greater act of mercy has been recorded for mankind and the world.

Most of us, when confronted with the injustice of the world want to act. This is a very Christian thing to do and one could say “un-Christian” to not do. But, what about the words we use? I thought I would open up a conversation that might be a bit controversial to some, but I think words and our use of them matters. Semantics, I know, but does not “social mercy” sound more Christian than “social justice”? Let’s discuss a bit.

Let me explain. Social justice assumes our role is to dispense justice as if it is something we can on our own arbitrate. Social mercy means we are to give mercy, which we clearly see modeled in Jesus. God is the arbiter, and we work under His divine design to provide mercy to a world in need of forgiveness and redemption.

Micah 6:8 says to “do justice and love mercy” so justice is surely part of the equation. But, does it make sense that when we say justice we are not pronouncing a love for mercy? I know, just semantics.

Nowhere are the words of Jesus filled with telling us to be dispensers justice, but Christ does say “blessed are the merciful” and lived a life that gave hope to the poor and forgiveness to sinners who brought injustice on those poor, including the tax collector in his gang. Jesus lived mercy. He is justice.

I am just trying to dialog a bit about how we come across or approach evil in our world. Fighting injustice or giving mercy–one is militant the other is grace-oriented. We need to fight, but who is our real enemy? My solution would be to say “justice and mercy” ministries rather than leaving it just as “justice.”  Or, “compassion” ministries.

Your thoughts?

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

68 comments

  1. I always lean on the side of mercy (except when an injustice is done to me… hint: sarcasm). But seriously hasn’t the church had a long enough history imputing “justice” on the world? Maybe it’s time for Mercy and help to those who need to see the love of Christ… Social Mercy – I love it.

    1. Alex…You distilled the nut of my thinking better than I did!

  2. I always lean on the side of mercy (except when an injustice is done to me… hint: sarcasm). But seriously hasn’t the church had a long enough history imputing “justice” on the world? Maybe it’s time for Mercy and help to those who need to see the love of Christ… Social Mercy – I love it.

    1. Alex…You distilled the nut of my thinking better than I did!

  3. I always lean on the side of mercy (except when an injustice is done to me… hint: sarcasm). But seriously hasn’t the church had a long enough history imputing “justice” on the world? Maybe it’s time for Mercy and help to those who need to see the love of Christ… Social Mercy – I love it.

    1. Alex…You distilled the nut of my thinking better than I did!

  4. I always lean on the side of mercy (except when an injustice is done to me… hint: sarcasm). But seriously hasn’t the church had a long enough history imputing “justice” on the world? Maybe it’s time for Mercy and help to those who need to see the love of Christ… Social Mercy – I love it.

    1. Alex…You distilled the nut of my thinking better than I did!

  5. For me the key word is evil – as Christians we are always to resist evil.
    “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12.

    There are many who people have fallen into the “evil of this world” and we should show mercy to them and be the light – we should be the ones who are there to help them. The battles are not against the people who are the victims but against the evil that they are prisoners to.

    In order to do this folks have to see a difference between us and “them” – which is why Scripture tells us to be “in the world but not of the world.” Are our lights bright enough to be beacons to a lost and dying world or are we so involved in our own agendas that we’re hidden in the shadows?

  6. For me the key word is evil – as Christians we are always to resist evil.
    “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12.

    There are many who people have fallen into the “evil of this world” and we should show mercy to them and be the light – we should be the ones who are there to help them. The battles are not against the people who are the victims but against the evil that they are prisoners to.

    In order to do this folks have to see a difference between us and “them” – which is why Scripture tells us to be “in the world but not of the world.” Are our lights bright enough to be beacons to a lost and dying world or are we so involved in our own agendas that we’re hidden in the shadows?

  7. For me the key word is evil – as Christians we are always to resist evil.
    “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12.

    There are many who people have fallen into the “evil of this world” and we should show mercy to them and be the light – we should be the ones who are there to help them. The battles are not against the people who are the victims but against the evil that they are prisoners to.

    In order to do this folks have to see a difference between us and “them” – which is why Scripture tells us to be “in the world but not of the world.” Are our lights bright enough to be beacons to a lost and dying world or are we so involved in our own agendas that we’re hidden in the shadows?

  8. For me the key word is evil – as Christians we are always to resist evil.
    “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12.

    There are many who people have fallen into the “evil of this world” and we should show mercy to them and be the light – we should be the ones who are there to help them. The battles are not against the people who are the victims but against the evil that they are prisoners to.

    In order to do this folks have to see a difference between us and “them” – which is why Scripture tells us to be “in the world but not of the world.” Are our lights bright enough to be beacons to a lost and dying world or are we so involved in our own agendas that we’re hidden in the shadows?

  9. Hmmm. I understand what you are saying about how we as Christians need to be dispensers of mercy as well as justice, but I think that social justice is an excellent term.
    We have many compassion ministries that will feed, clothe, disciple, shelter or in other ways serve those who need.

    What we are lacking IS social justice. We need those who will go into brothels full of kidnapped little girls and bring the perpetrators of the crimes against these children to justice – so that others are not forced into slavery. Mercy and compassion for future victims (and there will be future victims) will not happen by softening justice for those who are raping children now. Getting land back to widows in Kenya through the seeking of justice so that they no longer “need” our compassion is a much more effective plan giving them and their children some rice and an old t-shirt (as compassionate as that may be when they are desperate).

    “Do justice and love mercy.” Not “love justice.” Not “contemplate justice.” Just plain “Do justice.” That is HOW we love mercy.

    God is great at giving us the command to do it and explaining the why later. (Obedience is what I am personally lacking, but that is another story.) This is a very short example. By doing justice we learn to love mercy. By doing justice we learn to love those who need mercy.

    Would it be nice if the word was softer and if “justice” had a ring of sympathy or caring to it. I am not sure. Many Christians can be characterized as those seeking wrath for those they think have sinned too greatly. I hate that the way I think most other Christians do. On the other hand, I think we have many touchy-feely, feel good Christians who shy away from anything that smacks of having a back bone or really standing up to face our Goliath or stand in front of a group of men ready to hurl stones or speak to the “leper” or the “hooker” or the “tax collector” without also trying to keep their distance.

    We need the word justice to keep us focused on doing real work for the “fatherless and the widows.” Chris told Judas that we would always have the poor with us. We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. Being a Christian is not about feeling good. It is about following Christ (and we know where he ended up). Let’s not wimp out when there are so many who need us.

    1. “We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. ”
      I dig that! Very good thinking here.

      Here is a question: Is compassion and mercy a “weak” thing? Why is it touchy feely to show mercy and why would that not be the “answer” rather than militant positioning? Is it pragmatics that drive what we do or do we consider how Jesus acted? The means do not justify the ends if the means are the ends.

      Thanks for engaging!

      1. Hi Rich,Do I think mercy and compassion are weak? No. In some ways they are harder than justice. They challenge us to be “angry and not sin” (something I am still working on).

        We can think that compassion is laying out a Gospel of John and a glossy full color invitation to an impossible to get to church on an inner city homeless person’s bed so we can feel good about “spreading the love of Christ” (actually saw that Tuesday- made me burning mad). How is that compassionate or merciful? It is not. It is self serving and rude.

        Later that day I met a woman who also hands out to my homeless neighbors – socks, candy and an ear to hear what they need and guide them to it. She is in that world even though she is not of it. No drive by “loving” there. We were at an event with city politicos, homeless activists and addicts, social workers, reporters, college students spending their spring break focusing on housing issues, and other people with a desire to seek justice.

        I am sorry, but the anonymous tract dispenser is much more militant than any of these folks. See Wikipedia definition of militant “The word militant refers to any individual or party engaged in aggressive physical or verbal combat, usually for a cause.” It is aggressive to enter someone’s home, spew your ideology and leave when they have no chance to engage in dialog. The fact that this person couldn’t conceive that they were violating another person’s space and dignity is a reflection of how self centered our “mercy and compassion” can be.

        Christianity not a “cause,” it is about how we relate to others. Is my “compassion” building a relationship? Or is it dumping my used sweaters on beach in Sumatra so I can feel good? Isn’t dumping our trash on a village suffering from a tsunami in the name of Christ a bit aggressive? That was done as an act of mercy.

        I do not have access to little girls suffering in Cambodian brothels or little boys being flogged bloody so that Nestle can deliver some Chocolate Quik to my local Safeway, but as a Christian I am obligated to examine my relationship with them. Is supporting the lawyer who puts the little girls’ kidnappers and rapists on trial militant, or is it acting in right relationship to both her and her oppressors? Is forgoing Tollhouse cookies aggressive? I think these are acts of mercy and compassion because they are about justice.

        I am hearing that Jesus was this gentle, loving almost passive person. I am confused by that. Loving – yes. Gentle – sometimes. Passive – no. Jesus flipped tables over at the temple, stood up to a mob ready to stone a woman, escaped violent crowds, halted a funeral procession, told off the corrupt leaders of his day, broke the rules to feed or heal when it was needed, went outside the circle of those considered socially acceptable and sought out the disenfranchised. How many of us are acting like that? Is it militant if we do? Is it militant if we do it out of love for people we have not met? If we do it because we are in love with Christ? How about when we do it for our church? Or for Christianity?

        I think the last two are where we get in trouble. As Christians, the notion of social justice requires us to think for ourselves instead of blindly following our leaders and to lay our self serving behavior before God. Ouch. We don’t like the pain (and some of us don’t like to think), so we act “compassionately” because it feels good and the church held a bake sale or clothing drive.

        The Christ told us “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) And then he started talking about very intimate relationships that would be severed when we “take up our cross” – because we are entering into a new community where compassionate behavior is how we achieve our calling. The final example he gave when telling us how to pick up our cross and follow him was giving a cup of water to a child. It is our job as Christians to take care of children even if we are offensive or “militant” in the process.

        Sometimes that means digging a well. Sometimes that means chatting up a prostitute who is a single mom trying to feed her kids and having a bad night or standing with a homeless friend outside city hall, giving money to the people working with child soldiers in Uganda or fighting your way through to a little girl enslaved on a rice plantation.

        You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.

        Compassion denotes that we are standing “with” the sufferer, thus the “com” part of compassion. Compassion is an emotion of community. Mercy is not just judicial clemency, it is compassionate action. Justice is the quality of being fair and righteous.

        Maybe if we spent more time seeking justice for people who need mercy, we wouldn’t have the bad reputation our “compassion” has given us and wouldn’t have to contemplate softening the word. True community may have been built with “others” and they also might understand us and the God we try to serve.

        1. “You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.”
          Well put. You got the nut of the question and answered very eloquently. My idea here is that I see complacency as an issue, of course. But, I also see militancy on the other side where “the end justifies the means.” Yes, Jesus was not wimpy, but He was Jesus! We have not the same moral high ground, only what we borrow from Him. That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion I would hope.

          1. “That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion.” Absolutely! Grace must be central. God told us to love mercy right after he told us do justice, right?
            I think my fear is that too heavy a focus on grace might lead to muddy thinking that freezes us into a place of inaction.

            I am interested in your idea of militancy in the Church around issues of social justice. Can you help understand what you are speaking of specifically? I can be uninformed and a little slow.

  10. Hmmm. I understand what you are saying about how we as Christians need to be dispensers of mercy as well as justice, but I think that social justice is an excellent term.
    We have many compassion ministries that will feed, clothe, disciple, shelter or in other ways serve those who need.

    What we are lacking IS social justice. We need those who will go into brothels full of kidnapped little girls and bring the perpetrators of the crimes against these children to justice – so that others are not forced into slavery. Mercy and compassion for future victims (and there will be future victims) will not happen by softening justice for those who are raping children now. Getting land back to widows in Kenya through the seeking of justice so that they no longer “need” our compassion is a much more effective plan giving them and their children some rice and an old t-shirt (as compassionate as that may be when they are desperate).

    “Do justice and love mercy.” Not “love justice.” Not “contemplate justice.” Just plain “Do justice.” That is HOW we love mercy.

    God is great at giving us the command to do it and explaining the why later. (Obedience is what I am personally lacking, but that is another story.) This is a very short example. By doing justice we learn to love mercy. By doing justice we learn to love those who need mercy.

    Would it be nice if the word was softer and if “justice” had a ring of sympathy or caring to it. I am not sure. Many Christians can be characterized as those seeking wrath for those they think have sinned too greatly. I hate that the way I think most other Christians do. On the other hand, I think we have many touchy-feely, feel good Christians who shy away from anything that smacks of having a back bone or really standing up to face our Goliath or stand in front of a group of men ready to hurl stones or speak to the “leper” or the “hooker” or the “tax collector” without also trying to keep their distance.

    We need the word justice to keep us focused on doing real work for the “fatherless and the widows.” Chris told Judas that we would always have the poor with us. We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. Being a Christian is not about feeling good. It is about following Christ (and we know where he ended up). Let’s not wimp out when there are so many who need us.

    1. “We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. ”
      I dig that! Very good thinking here.

      Here is a question: Is compassion and mercy a “weak” thing? Why is it touchy feely to show mercy and why would that not be the “answer” rather than militant positioning? Is it pragmatics that drive what we do or do we consider how Jesus acted? The means do not justify the ends if the means are the ends.

      Thanks for engaging!

      1. Hi Rich,Do I think mercy and compassion are weak? No. In some ways they are harder than justice. They challenge us to be “angry and not sin” (something I am still working on).

        We can think that compassion is laying out a Gospel of John and a glossy full color invitation to an impossible to get to church on an inner city homeless person’s bed so we can feel good about “spreading the love of Christ” (actually saw that Tuesday- made me burning mad). How is that compassionate or merciful? It is not. It is self serving and rude.

        Later that day I met a woman who also hands out to my homeless neighbors – socks, candy and an ear to hear what they need and guide them to it. She is in that world even though she is not of it. No drive by “loving” there. We were at an event with city politicos, homeless activists and addicts, social workers, reporters, college students spending their spring break focusing on housing issues, and other people with a desire to seek justice.

        I am sorry, but the anonymous tract dispenser is much more militant than any of these folks. See Wikipedia definition of militant “The word militant refers to any individual or party engaged in aggressive physical or verbal combat, usually for a cause.” It is aggressive to enter someone’s home, spew your ideology and leave when they have no chance to engage in dialog. The fact that this person couldn’t conceive that they were violating another person’s space and dignity is a reflection of how self centered our “mercy and compassion” can be.

        Christianity not a “cause,” it is about how we relate to others. Is my “compassion” building a relationship? Or is it dumping my used sweaters on beach in Sumatra so I can feel good? Isn’t dumping our trash on a village suffering from a tsunami in the name of Christ a bit aggressive? That was done as an act of mercy.

        I do not have access to little girls suffering in Cambodian brothels or little boys being flogged bloody so that Nestle can deliver some Chocolate Quik to my local Safeway, but as a Christian I am obligated to examine my relationship with them. Is supporting the lawyer who puts the little girls’ kidnappers and rapists on trial militant, or is it acting in right relationship to both her and her oppressors? Is forgoing Tollhouse cookies aggressive? I think these are acts of mercy and compassion because they are about justice.

        I am hearing that Jesus was this gentle, loving almost passive person. I am confused by that. Loving – yes. Gentle – sometimes. Passive – no. Jesus flipped tables over at the temple, stood up to a mob ready to stone a woman, escaped violent crowds, halted a funeral procession, told off the corrupt leaders of his day, broke the rules to feed or heal when it was needed, went outside the circle of those considered socially acceptable and sought out the disenfranchised. How many of us are acting like that? Is it militant if we do? Is it militant if we do it out of love for people we have not met? If we do it because we are in love with Christ? How about when we do it for our church? Or for Christianity?

        I think the last two are where we get in trouble. As Christians, the notion of social justice requires us to think for ourselves instead of blindly following our leaders and to lay our self serving behavior before God. Ouch. We don’t like the pain (and some of us don’t like to think), so we act “compassionately” because it feels good and the church held a bake sale or clothing drive.

        The Christ told us “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) And then he started talking about very intimate relationships that would be severed when we “take up our cross” – because we are entering into a new community where compassionate behavior is how we achieve our calling. The final example he gave when telling us how to pick up our cross and follow him was giving a cup of water to a child. It is our job as Christians to take care of children even if we are offensive or “militant” in the process.

        Sometimes that means digging a well. Sometimes that means chatting up a prostitute who is a single mom trying to feed her kids and having a bad night or standing with a homeless friend outside city hall, giving money to the people working with child soldiers in Uganda or fighting your way through to a little girl enslaved on a rice plantation.

        You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.

        Compassion denotes that we are standing “with” the sufferer, thus the “com” part of compassion. Compassion is an emotion of community. Mercy is not just judicial clemency, it is compassionate action. Justice is the quality of being fair and righteous.

        Maybe if we spent more time seeking justice for people who need mercy, we wouldn’t have the bad reputation our “compassion” has given us and wouldn’t have to contemplate softening the word. True community may have been built with “others” and they also might understand us and the God we try to serve.

        1. “You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.”
          Well put. You got the nut of the question and answered very eloquently. My idea here is that I see complacency as an issue, of course. But, I also see militancy on the other side where “the end justifies the means.” Yes, Jesus was not wimpy, but He was Jesus! We have not the same moral high ground, only what we borrow from Him. That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion I would hope.

          1. “That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion.” Absolutely! Grace must be central. God told us to love mercy right after he told us do justice, right?
            I think my fear is that too heavy a focus on grace might lead to muddy thinking that freezes us into a place of inaction.

            I am interested in your idea of militancy in the Church around issues of social justice. Can you help understand what you are speaking of specifically? I can be uninformed and a little slow.

  11. Hmmm. I understand what you are saying about how we as Christians need to be dispensers of mercy as well as justice, but I think that social justice is an excellent term.
    We have many compassion ministries that will feed, clothe, disciple, shelter or in other ways serve those who need.

    What we are lacking IS social justice. We need those who will go into brothels full of kidnapped little girls and bring the perpetrators of the crimes against these children to justice – so that others are not forced into slavery. Mercy and compassion for future victims (and there will be future victims) will not happen by softening justice for those who are raping children now. Getting land back to widows in Kenya through the seeking of justice so that they no longer “need” our compassion is a much more effective plan giving them and their children some rice and an old t-shirt (as compassionate as that may be when they are desperate).

    “Do justice and love mercy.” Not “love justice.” Not “contemplate justice.” Just plain “Do justice.” That is HOW we love mercy.

    God is great at giving us the command to do it and explaining the why later. (Obedience is what I am personally lacking, but that is another story.) This is a very short example. By doing justice we learn to love mercy. By doing justice we learn to love those who need mercy.

    Would it be nice if the word was softer and if “justice” had a ring of sympathy or caring to it. I am not sure. Many Christians can be characterized as those seeking wrath for those they think have sinned too greatly. I hate that the way I think most other Christians do. On the other hand, I think we have many touchy-feely, feel good Christians who shy away from anything that smacks of having a back bone or really standing up to face our Goliath or stand in front of a group of men ready to hurl stones or speak to the “leper” or the “hooker” or the “tax collector” without also trying to keep their distance.

    We need the word justice to keep us focused on doing real work for the “fatherless and the widows.” Chris told Judas that we would always have the poor with us. We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. Being a Christian is not about feeling good. It is about following Christ (and we know where he ended up). Let’s not wimp out when there are so many who need us.

    1. “We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. ”
      I dig that! Very good thinking here.

      Here is a question: Is compassion and mercy a “weak” thing? Why is it touchy feely to show mercy and why would that not be the “answer” rather than militant positioning? Is it pragmatics that drive what we do or do we consider how Jesus acted? The means do not justify the ends if the means are the ends.

      Thanks for engaging!

      1. Hi Rich,Do I think mercy and compassion are weak? No. In some ways they are harder than justice. They challenge us to be “angry and not sin” (something I am still working on).

        We can think that compassion is laying out a Gospel of John and a glossy full color invitation to an impossible to get to church on an inner city homeless person’s bed so we can feel good about “spreading the love of Christ” (actually saw that Tuesday- made me burning mad). How is that compassionate or merciful? It is not. It is self serving and rude.

        Later that day I met a woman who also hands out to my homeless neighbors – socks, candy and an ear to hear what they need and guide them to it. She is in that world even though she is not of it. No drive by “loving” there. We were at an event with city politicos, homeless activists and addicts, social workers, reporters, college students spending their spring break focusing on housing issues, and other people with a desire to seek justice.

        I am sorry, but the anonymous tract dispenser is much more militant than any of these folks. See Wikipedia definition of militant “The word militant refers to any individual or party engaged in aggressive physical or verbal combat, usually for a cause.” It is aggressive to enter someone’s home, spew your ideology and leave when they have no chance to engage in dialog. The fact that this person couldn’t conceive that they were violating another person’s space and dignity is a reflection of how self centered our “mercy and compassion” can be.

        Christianity not a “cause,” it is about how we relate to others. Is my “compassion” building a relationship? Or is it dumping my used sweaters on beach in Sumatra so I can feel good? Isn’t dumping our trash on a village suffering from a tsunami in the name of Christ a bit aggressive? That was done as an act of mercy.

        I do not have access to little girls suffering in Cambodian brothels or little boys being flogged bloody so that Nestle can deliver some Chocolate Quik to my local Safeway, but as a Christian I am obligated to examine my relationship with them. Is supporting the lawyer who puts the little girls’ kidnappers and rapists on trial militant, or is it acting in right relationship to both her and her oppressors? Is forgoing Tollhouse cookies aggressive? I think these are acts of mercy and compassion because they are about justice.

        I am hearing that Jesus was this gentle, loving almost passive person. I am confused by that. Loving – yes. Gentle – sometimes. Passive – no. Jesus flipped tables over at the temple, stood up to a mob ready to stone a woman, escaped violent crowds, halted a funeral procession, told off the corrupt leaders of his day, broke the rules to feed or heal when it was needed, went outside the circle of those considered socially acceptable and sought out the disenfranchised. How many of us are acting like that? Is it militant if we do? Is it militant if we do it out of love for people we have not met? If we do it because we are in love with Christ? How about when we do it for our church? Or for Christianity?

        I think the last two are where we get in trouble. As Christians, the notion of social justice requires us to think for ourselves instead of blindly following our leaders and to lay our self serving behavior before God. Ouch. We don’t like the pain (and some of us don’t like to think), so we act “compassionately” because it feels good and the church held a bake sale or clothing drive.

        The Christ told us “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) And then he started talking about very intimate relationships that would be severed when we “take up our cross” – because we are entering into a new community where compassionate behavior is how we achieve our calling. The final example he gave when telling us how to pick up our cross and follow him was giving a cup of water to a child. It is our job as Christians to take care of children even if we are offensive or “militant” in the process.

        Sometimes that means digging a well. Sometimes that means chatting up a prostitute who is a single mom trying to feed her kids and having a bad night or standing with a homeless friend outside city hall, giving money to the people working with child soldiers in Uganda or fighting your way through to a little girl enslaved on a rice plantation.

        You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.

        Compassion denotes that we are standing “with” the sufferer, thus the “com” part of compassion. Compassion is an emotion of community. Mercy is not just judicial clemency, it is compassionate action. Justice is the quality of being fair and righteous.

        Maybe if we spent more time seeking justice for people who need mercy, we wouldn’t have the bad reputation our “compassion” has given us and wouldn’t have to contemplate softening the word. True community may have been built with “others” and they also might understand us and the God we try to serve.

        1. “You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.”
          Well put. You got the nut of the question and answered very eloquently. My idea here is that I see complacency as an issue, of course. But, I also see militancy on the other side where “the end justifies the means.” Yes, Jesus was not wimpy, but He was Jesus! We have not the same moral high ground, only what we borrow from Him. That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion I would hope.

          1. “That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion.” Absolutely! Grace must be central. God told us to love mercy right after he told us do justice, right?
            I think my fear is that too heavy a focus on grace might lead to muddy thinking that freezes us into a place of inaction.

            I am interested in your idea of militancy in the Church around issues of social justice. Can you help understand what you are speaking of specifically? I can be uninformed and a little slow.

  12. Hmmm. I understand what you are saying about how we as Christians need to be dispensers of mercy as well as justice, but I think that social justice is an excellent term.
    We have many compassion ministries that will feed, clothe, disciple, shelter or in other ways serve those who need.

    What we are lacking IS social justice. We need those who will go into brothels full of kidnapped little girls and bring the perpetrators of the crimes against these children to justice – so that others are not forced into slavery. Mercy and compassion for future victims (and there will be future victims) will not happen by softening justice for those who are raping children now. Getting land back to widows in Kenya through the seeking of justice so that they no longer “need” our compassion is a much more effective plan giving them and their children some rice and an old t-shirt (as compassionate as that may be when they are desperate).

    “Do justice and love mercy.” Not “love justice.” Not “contemplate justice.” Just plain “Do justice.” That is HOW we love mercy.

    God is great at giving us the command to do it and explaining the why later. (Obedience is what I am personally lacking, but that is another story.) This is a very short example. By doing justice we learn to love mercy. By doing justice we learn to love those who need mercy.

    Would it be nice if the word was softer and if “justice” had a ring of sympathy or caring to it. I am not sure. Many Christians can be characterized as those seeking wrath for those they think have sinned too greatly. I hate that the way I think most other Christians do. On the other hand, I think we have many touchy-feely, feel good Christians who shy away from anything that smacks of having a back bone or really standing up to face our Goliath or stand in front of a group of men ready to hurl stones or speak to the “leper” or the “hooker” or the “tax collector” without also trying to keep their distance.

    We need the word justice to keep us focused on doing real work for the “fatherless and the widows.” Chris told Judas that we would always have the poor with us. We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. Being a Christian is not about feeling good. It is about following Christ (and we know where he ended up). Let’s not wimp out when there are so many who need us.

    1. “We need to seek justice for them or our mercy becomes a way to distance us from their pain. ”
      I dig that! Very good thinking here.

      Here is a question: Is compassion and mercy a “weak” thing? Why is it touchy feely to show mercy and why would that not be the “answer” rather than militant positioning? Is it pragmatics that drive what we do or do we consider how Jesus acted? The means do not justify the ends if the means are the ends.

      Thanks for engaging!

      1. Hi Rich,Do I think mercy and compassion are weak? No. In some ways they are harder than justice. They challenge us to be “angry and not sin” (something I am still working on).

        We can think that compassion is laying out a Gospel of John and a glossy full color invitation to an impossible to get to church on an inner city homeless person’s bed so we can feel good about “spreading the love of Christ” (actually saw that Tuesday- made me burning mad). How is that compassionate or merciful? It is not. It is self serving and rude.

        Later that day I met a woman who also hands out to my homeless neighbors – socks, candy and an ear to hear what they need and guide them to it. She is in that world even though she is not of it. No drive by “loving” there. We were at an event with city politicos, homeless activists and addicts, social workers, reporters, college students spending their spring break focusing on housing issues, and other people with a desire to seek justice.

        I am sorry, but the anonymous tract dispenser is much more militant than any of these folks. See Wikipedia definition of militant “The word militant refers to any individual or party engaged in aggressive physical or verbal combat, usually for a cause.” It is aggressive to enter someone’s home, spew your ideology and leave when they have no chance to engage in dialog. The fact that this person couldn’t conceive that they were violating another person’s space and dignity is a reflection of how self centered our “mercy and compassion” can be.

        Christianity not a “cause,” it is about how we relate to others. Is my “compassion” building a relationship? Or is it dumping my used sweaters on beach in Sumatra so I can feel good? Isn’t dumping our trash on a village suffering from a tsunami in the name of Christ a bit aggressive? That was done as an act of mercy.

        I do not have access to little girls suffering in Cambodian brothels or little boys being flogged bloody so that Nestle can deliver some Chocolate Quik to my local Safeway, but as a Christian I am obligated to examine my relationship with them. Is supporting the lawyer who puts the little girls’ kidnappers and rapists on trial militant, or is it acting in right relationship to both her and her oppressors? Is forgoing Tollhouse cookies aggressive? I think these are acts of mercy and compassion because they are about justice.

        I am hearing that Jesus was this gentle, loving almost passive person. I am confused by that. Loving – yes. Gentle – sometimes. Passive – no. Jesus flipped tables over at the temple, stood up to a mob ready to stone a woman, escaped violent crowds, halted a funeral procession, told off the corrupt leaders of his day, broke the rules to feed or heal when it was needed, went outside the circle of those considered socially acceptable and sought out the disenfranchised. How many of us are acting like that? Is it militant if we do? Is it militant if we do it out of love for people we have not met? If we do it because we are in love with Christ? How about when we do it for our church? Or for Christianity?

        I think the last two are where we get in trouble. As Christians, the notion of social justice requires us to think for ourselves instead of blindly following our leaders and to lay our self serving behavior before God. Ouch. We don’t like the pain (and some of us don’t like to think), so we act “compassionately” because it feels good and the church held a bake sale or clothing drive.

        The Christ told us “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) And then he started talking about very intimate relationships that would be severed when we “take up our cross” – because we are entering into a new community where compassionate behavior is how we achieve our calling. The final example he gave when telling us how to pick up our cross and follow him was giving a cup of water to a child. It is our job as Christians to take care of children even if we are offensive or “militant” in the process.

        Sometimes that means digging a well. Sometimes that means chatting up a prostitute who is a single mom trying to feed her kids and having a bad night or standing with a homeless friend outside city hall, giving money to the people working with child soldiers in Uganda or fighting your way through to a little girl enslaved on a rice plantation.

        You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.

        Compassion denotes that we are standing “with” the sufferer, thus the “com” part of compassion. Compassion is an emotion of community. Mercy is not just judicial clemency, it is compassionate action. Justice is the quality of being fair and righteous.

        Maybe if we spent more time seeking justice for people who need mercy, we wouldn’t have the bad reputation our “compassion” has given us and wouldn’t have to contemplate softening the word. True community may have been built with “others” and they also might understand us and the God we try to serve.

        1. “You can’t separate justice and mercy. It is ineffectual and condescending to just “do mercy.” Doing justice without mercy lacks love.”
          Well put. You got the nut of the question and answered very eloquently. My idea here is that I see complacency as an issue, of course. But, I also see militancy on the other side where “the end justifies the means.” Yes, Jesus was not wimpy, but He was Jesus! We have not the same moral high ground, only what we borrow from Him. That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion I would hope.

          1. “That should give our anger at injustice a bit of grace infusion.” Absolutely! Grace must be central. God told us to love mercy right after he told us do justice, right?
            I think my fear is that too heavy a focus on grace might lead to muddy thinking that freezes us into a place of inaction.

            I am interested in your idea of militancy in the Church around issues of social justice. Can you help understand what you are speaking of specifically? I can be uninformed and a little slow.

  13. I don’t think it’s a either or thing it’s a both and. We can’t lean one way or another. We have to do both

  14. I don’t think it’s a either or thing it’s a both and. We can’t lean one way or another. We have to do both

  15. I don’t think it’s a either or thing it’s a both and. We can’t lean one way or another. We have to do both

  16. I don’t think it’s a either or thing it’s a both and. We can’t lean one way or another. We have to do both

  17. Rich, I read this last night and then I had to come back and read it again this morning. It’s just knocking me over because it’s so powerful. I’m especially meditating on the images I get with the interplay of these two sentences:
    “The cross was the greatest social injustice in history, but no greater act of mercy has been recorded for mankind and the world.

    Most of us, when confronted with the injustice of the world want to act.”

    When I think about **how** Jesus confronted social injustice versus how we do I am gob-smacked. We want to march in and make it stop, punish the perpetrators, save the innocents, etc., etc. We look at this from an almost military perspective … and wage wars on drugs, pornography, whatever the latest evil of the moment is. This ends up creating a continuing cycle of injustice and harm in the world: the original evil, then the evil caused by stopping it.

    Jesus didn’t see it like that. He didn’t wage any wars on the evils of his day (which were markedly similar to the evils of ours). He looked at the root of evil and began there. He talked to individuals and didn’t make laws on top of rules. He invited people to the table. He invited them to inspect their own hearts. While being subversive and humble, it was also the most powerful act he could do (see the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well, or the rich young ruler). Ultimately, when he could have saved himself against the an act of grave social injustice he engaged in a powerful act of humility and did nothing to save himself at all.

    I wonder sometimes if our perspective needs to be broadened and our horizons widened so that we can see beyond ourselves and our immediate situation, dire though it may be, to the root of the evil that we face. If we were able to see that more clearly, I think we’d have a better understanding of how to weave doing justice and loving mercy together in a more whole and tightly woven cloth.

    1. Thanks Sonja for letting me struggle with this and contributing more thought to this. Surely we are to free the captives, and do as Jesus did…but “how” he did. That is the part that makes me think I am not as humble about even the puny “good” things I do.

      1. Oh … please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we should stand by and not do anything. Not at all. I am saying that it’s possible that we could use some time looking more closely at our perspective and our own motives. How do we expect to weave justice and mercy together as we wage a war on (insert social justice issue of the moment here). Mercy is usually a victim during wartime. And the visual I get of Jesus on the cross suffering gross physical injustice so that we might have mercy, brings me to my knees. The two concepts seem diametrically opposed, yet God enjoins us to put them together … what does He mean by that? And how should we do it?
        I’m really digging this post Rich … it’s wonderful. Deep and full of really great stuff.

  18. Rich, I read this last night and then I had to come back and read it again this morning. It’s just knocking me over because it’s so powerful. I’m especially meditating on the images I get with the interplay of these two sentences:
    “The cross was the greatest social injustice in history, but no greater act of mercy has been recorded for mankind and the world.

    Most of us, when confronted with the injustice of the world want to act.”

    When I think about **how** Jesus confronted social injustice versus how we do I am gob-smacked. We want to march in and make it stop, punish the perpetrators, save the innocents, etc., etc. We look at this from an almost military perspective … and wage wars on drugs, pornography, whatever the latest evil of the moment is. This ends up creating a continuing cycle of injustice and harm in the world: the original evil, then the evil caused by stopping it.

    Jesus didn’t see it like that. He didn’t wage any wars on the evils of his day (which were markedly similar to the evils of ours). He looked at the root of evil and began there. He talked to individuals and didn’t make laws on top of rules. He invited people to the table. He invited them to inspect their own hearts. While being subversive and humble, it was also the most powerful act he could do (see the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well, or the rich young ruler). Ultimately, when he could have saved himself against the an act of grave social injustice he engaged in a powerful act of humility and did nothing to save himself at all.

    I wonder sometimes if our perspective needs to be broadened and our horizons widened so that we can see beyond ourselves and our immediate situation, dire though it may be, to the root of the evil that we face. If we were able to see that more clearly, I think we’d have a better understanding of how to weave doing justice and loving mercy together in a more whole and tightly woven cloth.

    1. Thanks Sonja for letting me struggle with this and contributing more thought to this. Surely we are to free the captives, and do as Jesus did…but “how” he did. That is the part that makes me think I am not as humble about even the puny “good” things I do.

      1. Oh … please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we should stand by and not do anything. Not at all. I am saying that it’s possible that we could use some time looking more closely at our perspective and our own motives. How do we expect to weave justice and mercy together as we wage a war on (insert social justice issue of the moment here). Mercy is usually a victim during wartime. And the visual I get of Jesus on the cross suffering gross physical injustice so that we might have mercy, brings me to my knees. The two concepts seem diametrically opposed, yet God enjoins us to put them together … what does He mean by that? And how should we do it?
        I’m really digging this post Rich … it’s wonderful. Deep and full of really great stuff.

  19. Rich, I read this last night and then I had to come back and read it again this morning. It’s just knocking me over because it’s so powerful. I’m especially meditating on the images I get with the interplay of these two sentences:
    “The cross was the greatest social injustice in history, but no greater act of mercy has been recorded for mankind and the world.

    Most of us, when confronted with the injustice of the world want to act.”

    When I think about **how** Jesus confronted social injustice versus how we do I am gob-smacked. We want to march in and make it stop, punish the perpetrators, save the innocents, etc., etc. We look at this from an almost military perspective … and wage wars on drugs, pornography, whatever the latest evil of the moment is. This ends up creating a continuing cycle of injustice and harm in the world: the original evil, then the evil caused by stopping it.

    Jesus didn’t see it like that. He didn’t wage any wars on the evils of his day (which were markedly similar to the evils of ours). He looked at the root of evil and began there. He talked to individuals and didn’t make laws on top of rules. He invited people to the table. He invited them to inspect their own hearts. While being subversive and humble, it was also the most powerful act he could do (see the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well, or the rich young ruler). Ultimately, when he could have saved himself against the an act of grave social injustice he engaged in a powerful act of humility and did nothing to save himself at all.

    I wonder sometimes if our perspective needs to be broadened and our horizons widened so that we can see beyond ourselves and our immediate situation, dire though it may be, to the root of the evil that we face. If we were able to see that more clearly, I think we’d have a better understanding of how to weave doing justice and loving mercy together in a more whole and tightly woven cloth.

    1. Thanks Sonja for letting me struggle with this and contributing more thought to this. Surely we are to free the captives, and do as Jesus did…but “how” he did. That is the part that makes me think I am not as humble about even the puny “good” things I do.

      1. Oh … please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we should stand by and not do anything. Not at all. I am saying that it’s possible that we could use some time looking more closely at our perspective and our own motives. How do we expect to weave justice and mercy together as we wage a war on (insert social justice issue of the moment here). Mercy is usually a victim during wartime. And the visual I get of Jesus on the cross suffering gross physical injustice so that we might have mercy, brings me to my knees. The two concepts seem diametrically opposed, yet God enjoins us to put them together … what does He mean by that? And how should we do it?
        I’m really digging this post Rich … it’s wonderful. Deep and full of really great stuff.

  20. Rich, I read this last night and then I had to come back and read it again this morning. It’s just knocking me over because it’s so powerful. I’m especially meditating on the images I get with the interplay of these two sentences:
    “The cross was the greatest social injustice in history, but no greater act of mercy has been recorded for mankind and the world.

    Most of us, when confronted with the injustice of the world want to act.”

    When I think about **how** Jesus confronted social injustice versus how we do I am gob-smacked. We want to march in and make it stop, punish the perpetrators, save the innocents, etc., etc. We look at this from an almost military perspective … and wage wars on drugs, pornography, whatever the latest evil of the moment is. This ends up creating a continuing cycle of injustice and harm in the world: the original evil, then the evil caused by stopping it.

    Jesus didn’t see it like that. He didn’t wage any wars on the evils of his day (which were markedly similar to the evils of ours). He looked at the root of evil and began there. He talked to individuals and didn’t make laws on top of rules. He invited people to the table. He invited them to inspect their own hearts. While being subversive and humble, it was also the most powerful act he could do (see the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well, or the rich young ruler). Ultimately, when he could have saved himself against the an act of grave social injustice he engaged in a powerful act of humility and did nothing to save himself at all.

    I wonder sometimes if our perspective needs to be broadened and our horizons widened so that we can see beyond ourselves and our immediate situation, dire though it may be, to the root of the evil that we face. If we were able to see that more clearly, I think we’d have a better understanding of how to weave doing justice and loving mercy together in a more whole and tightly woven cloth.

    1. Thanks Sonja for letting me struggle with this and contributing more thought to this. Surely we are to free the captives, and do as Jesus did…but “how” he did. That is the part that makes me think I am not as humble about even the puny “good” things I do.

      1. Oh … please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying we should stand by and not do anything. Not at all. I am saying that it’s possible that we could use some time looking more closely at our perspective and our own motives. How do we expect to weave justice and mercy together as we wage a war on (insert social justice issue of the moment here). Mercy is usually a victim during wartime. And the visual I get of Jesus on the cross suffering gross physical injustice so that we might have mercy, brings me to my knees. The two concepts seem diametrically opposed, yet God enjoins us to put them together … what does He mean by that? And how should we do it?
        I’m really digging this post Rich … it’s wonderful. Deep and full of really great stuff.

  21. Ever seen the movie Boondock Saints? I’m just sayin…

  22. Ever seen the movie Boondock Saints? I’m just sayin…

  23. Ever seen the movie Boondock Saints? I’m just sayin…

  24. Ever seen the movie Boondock Saints? I’m just sayin…

  25. […] was thinking about that patient this morning as I read, yet again, Rich Kirkpatrick’s fine post from Monday about the weaving together of justice and mercy.   Rich does a great job of discussing and […]

  26. […] was thinking about that patient this morning as I read, yet again, Rich Kirkpatrick’s fine post from Monday about the weaving together of justice and mercy.   Rich does a great job of discussing and […]

  27. […] was thinking about that patient this morning as I read, yet again, Rich Kirkpatrick’s fine post from Monday about the weaving together of justice and mercy.   Rich does a great job of discussing and […]

  28. […] was thinking about that patient this morning as I read, yet again, Rich Kirkpatrick’s fine post from Monday about the weaving together of justice and mercy.   Rich does a great job of discussing and […]

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