Justice, Mercy, and Humility

Justice, Mercy, and Humility

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Published:
February 24, 2022

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). It is fascinating how easily we can complicate the biblical mandate. As human beings, we create these complex theological systems as we attempt to understand and do the will of an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God. But the command is present and simple—if we are interested in doing what the Lord wants us to do, the tripartite principle is staring us in the face. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. The New American Standard Bible gives us words that we might better understand in our modern context—do justice, love kindness, walk humbly. Despite the simplicity of the mandate, we can see the difficulty of actualizing these principles. What does it mean for someone to live out justice, mercy/kindness, and humility?

Justice is the most complicated of these concepts to consider. Philosophers and leaders continue to attempt to define and refine what justice means within the context of ourselves and our communities. I tend to lean towards a Rawlsian conception of justice as fairness. We cannot have justice in our lives, our homes, and the various communities we inhabit if we are not willing to be fair to one another. This fairness does not necessarily seek to equalize the outcomes for everyone. However, what it does is seek to level the field such that every person’s decision-making can become unencumbered. To think of justice as fairness is to engage in a paradigmatic shift of analysis from strictly the individual to include the circumstances that affect that individual’s ability to make decisions. This shift occurs because of the realization that decision-making does not occur in a vacuum, and that if we can address the structural violence in our societies that negatively affects people without their knowledge or input, we can ameliorate the stresses and pressures that lead to negative outcomes.[1] It does not mean that the human is removed from all responsibility, but it helps us to realize that just individual punishment will be insufficient if our goal is to actually have healthy communities and societies.

This vision of justice prepares us to live lives of mercy and kindness. When we realize that an individual is not the sole cause of their place in life or their bad decisions, it becomes easier for us to love them and be merciful to and with them. Instead of imputing some moral failing to them that excuses us from an obligation to aid, we would begin to see others as real human beings in need of God’s unconditional love. What a kind and merciful world we would live in if we did not assume that poverty was solely the poor person’s fault. That the oppression of people of color was not due to some inherent trait. Or that the subjugation of women was not because of their supposed weaknesses. In short, we would be living in something closer to the Kingdom of God, which has grace to cover a multitude of sins, regardless of where, when, and why those sins were committed.

A different vision of justice, with eyes and hearts attuned to mercy and kindness, leads us into lives of humility. Seeing the world in this way should bring new meaning to Christ’s words that "He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). A justice that is fair to those around us helps us realize that this justice is what we hope to receive when we make mistakes. The kind of unfettered mercy that we give to others humbles us, as we hope that people will be merciful and kind to us in the same way. As we live in the way that God prescribes, it should help us to recognize that the power to live this way comes from the God we are walking with, not any goodness within ourselves.[2] If that does not make us humble, nothing will.

There is something I don’t often hear mentioned when we quote Micah 6:8. While the verse itself seems to be addressed to an individual, this statement is in the context of a prophetic indictment of a nation that had lost its way. Micah 6 is an indictment of Israel, a community that lost sight of justice, mercy, and humility. And while the religious liberty scholar in me wants to be wary and nuanced about how much we can take from this context when we attempt to analogize to our non-theocratic democracy, at the very least we can say that we too have lost our way if we are not affecting our society with the sense of justice, mercy, and humility found in Micah 6. Our church, and Christianity writ large in this country. seems to be suffering from, and in some cases perpetuating, the same injustice, mercilessness, and arrogance that plagued Israel before its fall. I pray that we can avoid that outcome and live out God’s simple mandate:

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”



Notes & References:

[1] The idea of structural violence comes from the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, most prominently in his book Pathologies of Power. Dr. Farmer passed away this week at the age of 62.

[2] I’ll say the quiet part out loud—if so much of the public face and perception of Christianity seems antithetical to this idea, we should wonder how close we are to doing what God requires.

 


Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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