Friday, May 9, 2008

"Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged"

I want to repeat the definitions of mercy cited in my previous post and discuss the implications of each one briefly. I think this will be a relatively short post, but it has hit me pretty hard as I've considered it this week. I am going to change the emphasis just as bit from the last post; instead of focusing on mercy itself in the definitions, I am going to focus on the human employment of mercy - "being merciful".

Mercy is:

1) leniency and compassion shown toward offenders by a person or agency charged with administering justice;
2) Forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it.

These definitions make it clear that there are two distinct situations where "mercy" can be appropriate: when someone has authority to administer justice and when someone has the power to inflict harm - especially when harm is "justified" under provocation. It is the difference between "inflicting harm" and "administering justice" about which I have been thinking - and how that relates to being "merciful" and being "just".

The first situation requires a legitimate judge - someone who has been "charged with administering justice". We are told in scriptures that we are not judges, and in our own local congregations it is the bishop, and only the bishop, who has been thus "charged". Therefore, becoming more merciful applies to most of us only in the second sense of the word - "forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it."

Why is this?

I believe it is because not one of us sees everything that must go into a "righteous judgment" clearly enough to make such a judgment. "Righteous" means "right with God", so a righteous judgment would be one that is consistent with what God would judge, knowing all the facts perfectly (completely and wholly). Since we "see through a glass darkly", we must err on the side of mercy and not "inflict harm" whenever possible. God, however, sees "face to face", so He is able to "judge righteous judgment". God can be "just"; our natural man cannot be "just"; our only hope of judging righteous judgment is to be in tune with the Holy Ghost, so that we can discern the will of God.

Bishops are able to act as judges in Israel specifically because they have been "charged with administering justice" - have been given the keys of discernment, if you will, to know what actions to take that would be consistent with the will of God. This is the main reason that disciplinary actions can vary so radically, even when the "objective facts" seem to be similar or even identical. There is SO much more that cannot be seen that affects what is truly "just" in each situation, so Bishops have latitude in many instances to recognize the differing will of God in seemingly similar situations - to administer justice through apparently contradictory actions.

One final point:

"Leniency" and "compassion" need not be administered only in extremes; they are not measured necessarily as all or nothing. The natural result of sin and transgression is a separation from the Godhead. Anything that lessens that separation - that allows it to be shortened in duration or lessened in intensity - can be seen literally as an application of leniency and compassion. If, for example, someone's actions have placed them in a position such that never-ending separation is "just", temporary excommunication can be merciful - as can disfellowshipment or probation.

In summary, our core beliefs include the concept that we, as regular, common members, have no right to judge others and inflict harm upon them - if it is in our power to forgive and not inflict harm. (Obviously, there are exceptions, as in cases of physical protection of ourselves and others.) Rather, our challenge is to allow those who have such a charge to exercise the authority they have been given and apply whatever level of leniency and compassion is appropriate in each situation to match the will of God.


Mama D said...

I like your thoughts on leniency and compassion, especially this sentence:
"Anything that lessens that separation - that allows it to be shortened in duration or lessened in intensity - can be seen literally as an application of leniency and compassion."

Thank you for sharing your insights!

sojourner said...

Many great points! May I never be called as "a person or agency charged with administering justice" or given "the power to inflict it." I would certainly end up hiding in a cave running away from the responsibility!!!

Christy said...

I think I get it. I am not one in position to offer mercy (except in my role as a mother), because it is not my place to pass judgement? I have certainly had experience in this area lately - trying not to pass judgement even when I've been wronged. So a lack of judgement is not the same as mercy - what would you call it? Charity, I hope.

Papa D said...

I think that's where it leads, Christy. I think the attitude of mercy (not judging, forgiving and being willing to not inflict harm) leads one inevitably to the true love of Christ.

Patty said...

I love how you've expanded your thoughts of mercy here.
I'm especially struck by the thought of excommunication being merciful- I've known a couple people who have been excommunicated and it took me awhile to realize just how merciful it was for them to be released from their covenants and be given the opportunity to fix what was wrong in their lives. It's amazing to see that kind of mercy work in someone's life.

Papa D said...

Patty, it's interesting that you would mention that part. I thought about being a little more comprehensive in the post, but decided to keep the focus very tightly on mercy.

I don't believe excommunication *automatically* is merciful (and I know you didn't imply that); if applied incorrectly ("unrighteously"), it can be devastating and cruel. That's why I don't envy those who serve as judges in Israel. The eternal significance of their actions is enough alone to argue that anyone who wants that position shouldn't be given it. It is an awesome responsibility - and I don't mean "cool".