Few people would argue with the need to help those who can’t help themselves. You may have a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality or you may believe that not everyone has the same opportunities to be successful and should be supported through various means until they can support themselves. Regardless of your viewpoint, there is a difference in showing mercy to someone and working for justice.
As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to show compassion to those who are suffering and hurting. It really doesn’t matter if their suffering comes from their own actions or from someone else’s. Jesus showed compassion to sinners even though they weren’t worthy to receive it. So many times, we look for someone who we feel is worthy of our help because it makes us feel better. We want to know their story and know that our aid went to someone who really deserved or needed it.
Micah 6:8 says that we should “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God.” The issue of showing mercy without mentioning justice is a really sore spot for me. Basically, it’s like helping people out of a pit, and then leaving that pit open so that they falling into it again. There are reasons for poverty and suffering that go beyond one’s personal ambition or responsibility. There are social norms, laws and systems that make it nearly impossible for some to get out of their bad situation. In some communities, those forces working against the individual are so pervasive that when they take one step forward, they get knocked back three steps. Poverty, health, crime and low-quality education and lack of opportunity all add up to stack the deck against whole communities.
As people of faith, when we either fail to recognize these issues or refuse to address them, are we really showing mercy? It is uncomfortable when we begin to realize that the very social system that we benefit from actually harms others. What action are we supposed to take when our eyes are opened to this reality?
Doing justice is not only doing what is right, but also working to make things right. We can’t solve every problem and issue, but there are things collectively that we can do that will make a difference for the underprivileged in our society.
Mercy is good, but not enough. God also loves justice. Do we?