“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice […]”
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
I’ve been thinking lately about mercy, described well in Shakespeare’s passage above, and I’ve been thinking about justice.
I’ve been thinking how difficult it is for mere mortals to exercise these two attributes so that they don’t get in the way of each other but rather, as Shakespeare put it, “season” each other so that in the meting out of mercy justice is not sacrificed and vice versa. The accomplishment of this harmonious blending is, I think, the result of extraordinary wisdom and restraint.
Romans 12:6-8 identifies mercy as not just a human quality, but also as a gift of the Holy Spirit along with prophesy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, and leading. Although each gift is powerful and necessary in the Body of Christ, not to mention in the world at large, each comes with parameters.
I’m learning that those gifted with mercy need to be sure to temper their emotional response to others’ pain and suffering so that they do not by misplaced compassion interrupt some necessary process in the others, some justice, perhaps, in progress.
The merciful need also to remember that sometimes, as in the case of the Prodigal Son, choices might take a loved one to a grievous place. This is where the merciful, who will want to rescue him or her, must themselves turn to God and learn to trust Him, to allow Him to rescue them from overstepping the mercy role.
Here is some comfort and hope for this hard task:
“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5m NASB).
“Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, And give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
And how to know that stepping aside and committing loved ones to God’s care can produce good?
“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15, KJV).
The merciful may see only the scepter of justice coming upon their loved one, but when it is in the hands of God what then is perfect justice is complemented by perfect mercy, “the mightiest in the mightiest” by the Mightiest Who is far abler than any earthly king.
It can be heartbreaking to step aside and watch hardship befall a loved one when we know this is the right or only thing to do. But when he or she is upheld to God in prayer, He, the King of the kings, the Merciful of the merciful, the Just of the just, will take up the cause.
And we can anticipate the joy.
Image from public domain