Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What IS ... mercy?

“The Girl who was Saturday” relayed
An additional thought from my father-in-law (a theologian who's given some time to this issue): Perhaps we are to understand the unbaptized infants who reach heaven (if they do--and I certainly hope they do) as signals of God's MERCY as opposed to of his JUSTICE or his covenant.
To the extent that mercy and justice are different (even "opposed") things, I suppose this must be right. (Indeed, I have at times voiced a thought that it were more befitting humility to implore God's mercy than His justice).

We are as it happens, in the middle of a Year of Mercy, and so I think it perhaps good to consider what mercy really is (and justice).

We have a tendency to think of law and judgment when "justice" is mentioned, but I'd like to share an aspect of justice (and justification) that I learned from French: justice is about harmony. That is, when a violin student misses his notes (violins have no frets, remember!) or when his strings are out of tune, if the lessons are conducted in French, the teacher may well admonish the student to "justifier ses cordes" (strings), or to "justifier ses accords" (chords, harmonies). Justification, like typographic justification, is about modifying tension (in strings, or between lettertype) to acheive harmony.

Now, some strings do become untuneable: when a string is overstretched more in one place than others, it no longer vibrates in a true tone — it looses harmony even with itself. Some strings outright break without much warning. These strings a violinist must throw away. But there are other ways for strings to loose their tuning: there is slackness, there is accretion of weight of dust and oil and rosin... and justice can in those cases be restored by purging the string of its burdens. Strings can also go funny when their instrument (like our fallen world) shifts under abuse or accident, and justice is then restored by caring for the instrument, more than the strings.

Now, in many ways, people are not like strings (and in many ways people are not like programs); whether we finally break or irreversibly distort our natures, or allow ourselves to be cleaned and tuned to perfection in the venturus saeculi, is somehow within our own choosing.

But we cannot call this stew finished without some salt, without returning to the moral questions, to law and judgment. To attempt an answer to the title question, mercy is at the very least justice due to an injured person. And so a criminal (a sinner like me) may rightly be due some mercy when he becomes in spirit a victim of his own crime; but to do that, to own his misery as it were (help me at it O Lord!) he must repent, he must repudiate his former crime as wrong in itself. Contrariwise, to ultimately hold onto that which put discord between one and God is also to be out of harmony with oneself, to be unjustifiable.


TGWWS said...

I'll buy the bridge. Though I would add that I suspect there may be different senses of "due" at play here--not ready to propose particular ones; there's just a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind.

Belfry Bat said...

niggle away! what is this blog for, if precision about words is not sometimes sought?

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