Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced. Romans 3:21-25 (NRSV)
(Jesus said, speaking of a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery and who was brought to the scribes and Pharisees for judgment): ”Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:5-7 (NRSV)
It’s not easy trying to do the right thing. There is a fine line between justice and mercy, and a vexing paradox between, “should we dish out what they deserve,” or “should we just forgive it all and move on?”
Part of us wants to seek out vengeance and justice and not be merciful at all. Here in the earthly kingdom we necessarily categorize- and levy sanctions for- individual transgressions based on their impact and the damage they do to society. The purpose of law on earth is to maintain order in society. When there is no consequence for breaking the law, anarchy, rioting, looting and all sort of debauched behavior become the norm.
“Everything goes” is not a good way for humans to live. This is why God gave us the gift of the Law, and the Ten Commandments, to put protective boundaries around our behavior so we don’t hurt ourselves and others.
When forgiveness becomes enabling and we make excuses for our bad behavior as well as for others’, we are not living the life that God has intended for us.
We are called to forgive. We are called to leave judgment to God. But we are also called to encourage each other (in love) to strive to become the people God created us to be. In the earthly kingdom we have an obligation- if we respect the rights and livelihoods of others- to administer justice and to keep people safe from those who would do them harm. Those who commit crimes against others should face the consequences of their crimes.
Martin Luther speaks in depth of the obligation of society to maintain order and safety in his explanations of the fifth, sixth and seventh commandments in the Large Catechism.
Even though we must have order in society to live together, we must always be willing to help, to forgive and to encourage each other.
How do we encourage in love? How do we find that balance between justice and mercy that we need to have as Jesus followers?