Judgment and Mercy

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  February 22, 2014

            When God acts, not everyone is happy about it—even when it is an act of mercy and kindness. Our response to God’s compassionate and creative grace within the world can be a powerful testimony to our own authenticity before God.
            Consider the example of Jonah. His familiar story recalls an unwilling prophet who passionately believes in God’s message of judgment and righteous destruction. Yet, for all his faith and devotion, Jonah ultimately directs his indignant anger away from the people God sent him to warn and redirects that venomous anger to God for relenting in compassionate mercy. In the book that bears his name, God show’s Jonah how incredibly selfish and arrogant he has become. Jonah cared not for the salvation of sinners. Rather he desired to see them burn for the apostate heathen he clearly knew they were and was enraged that God denied him the sinful satisfaction of watching God vengefully satisfy his desire for Divine Justice.
            Centuries later Jesus Christ encountered a man who was blind from birth. In a fit of narcissistic religious cruelty, those who wished to discredit the Son of God, used this man as a challenge in a theological quandary intended to befuddle Jesus. Yet, rather than wander into their legalistic trap, Jesus instead chose to show God’s unrelentingly compassionate love heal the man of his blindness.
            Determined to capitalize on God’s compassion to justify their own sinful lust for power and control, the Pharisees relentlessly investigated the miracle healing with a fierce determination to punish Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Challenged with a choice between accepting the compassionate grace of God in terms they did not like or appreciate or ridiculing and defaming the man as a fraud for contradicting their exclusively narrow view of God, the Pharisees would only find fault with the recipient of God’s love so they cast him out of the religious community. This vivid story told in the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel ends with Jesus Christ finding the religiously pious and publicly righteous Pharisees to be spiritually blind—literally oblivious to the love and grace of the God they presumed to know better than everyone else.
            Perhaps nobody in all the Bible felt this tension more than Job. His epic story is dominated by several so-called “friends” who feel compelled to condemn Job for what they know, in their own superficial religiosity and self-righteous judgment, is God’s just retribution against Job for being a heathen sinner and falsely righteous person. Ultimately, God’s angry reprisal comes, but not against Job. Rather, God rebukes the friends for their presumptively arrogant condemnation of a man whom they truly did not know by invoking the Name of the God they only thought they knew.
            Judgment is easy—perhaps too easy! This is particularly true when harsh judgment is bolstered by our own world-view and narrow community of people who are bound together in specific shared beliefs, values, and understandings, or when the judgment also serves to reinforce our own sense of prominence and power within a given community.
            God’s sense of mercy, grace, forgiveness and love are far more powerful and prominent than our limited human understanding and biased interpretations of right and wrong. As a Church dedicated to ministry and service in Jesus’ name, Christians serve best when we are seeking to understand and bless others rather than condemn and curse others for aspects which we do not understand or for which we find ourselves reacting in some degree of fear.