A book I recently read, The Mark of the King, newly published by my friend Jocelyn Green, depicts the early years of the French colonization of Louisiana. In it, a military captain confesses to his new bride that, when he had served as an altar boy years before, he “grew overfond of robes and rules. I watched myself and others so closely, looking for missteps that needed correcting. It was wrong of me…” Now, in contrast, he was ready to follow the teachings of Jesus and to be a man, not only of faith, but of grace and peace. For himself and for his new household, he only wanted to know God and be known by Him.
His words struck a chord with me because I can remember times in my own life, growing up in the church, when I seemed so concerned about the missteps of others that I not only sometimes overlooked my own, but I also was slow in offering grace and mercy.
I suspect this is not an uncommon ailment among humans. Today we hear, almost daily, about social justice warriors who claim they are fighting for the rights of those who are marginalized or oppressed. In some cases, however, it is easy to see that the motivation behind their activism is a sense of moral superiority. . .a desire to vilify and hold accountable groups and individuals they personally disagree with or feel offended by.
Indeed, the Bible does instruct us to expose evil and darkness (in Ephesians 5:11) and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8, emphasis mine) but that is not a license for us to condemn those whom Christ has forgiven and redeemed, or those who are seeking Him and are trying to live in obedience. It is also not a license for us to take the law into our own hands.
In the TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Hercule Poirot confronts the group of people who teamed up to kill a man they felt had gotten away with murder. When one of them objects that the law had let them down, he responds: “No! No, you behave like this and we become just savages in the street! … The rule of law, it must be held high and if it falls you pick it up and hold it even higher! For all of society, all civilized people will have nothing to shelter them if it is destroyed!” One of the women again objects: “There is a higher justice than the rule of law, monsieur!” to which he replies: “Then you let God administer it…not you!”
Are we willing to let God administer justice in the world today? Or do we fear He is too merciful? It is dangerous to think that we know better than He does. Let us remember how, in our own lives, Jesus took us beyond justice. . .to mercy.