Blog Response: Justice and Reconciliation

Yesterday Tara and I had a response to my post that was dated August 8 concerning the misguided tension between justice and reconciliation. In that response, a brother in Christ wrote how much he would like to “hear” this but because of the painful circumstances of a present situation this just seemed unbearable. His question asked, “What does this really look like in real life?” My response was as follows:

Dear Andrew,

It is so hard to write about theology when I should be writing about compassion and care. But, since that is the sub-title of our book (Redeeming Church Conflicts) I guess they go together. That is the hard part, isn’t it? To think that the hard biblical doctrines we believe are also compassionate and caring. But, they are. I am sorry I did not write beyond what I believe about the doctrine of a relationship between justice and reconciliation. I should have, because your question, Andrew (“What does this look like in real life?”), is the important “so what, now what” aspect of application that makes more sense to us when we are hurting.

Let me try to add a bit more doctrine that may be somewhat more compassionate and caring. OK?

One of those responding to my August 8th blog simply said, “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” That is a direct quote to James 2:13b. That was a good response. But, to put it in context we have to see what it is that is being judged that would give rise to such a comparative statement. The full quote to James 2:12 and 13 is, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Of course, what is being judged here is our act of unmerciful judgment of others, especially when we feel there has been little or no justice. God is saying, if you judge others without showing mercy you will ultimately be judged in the same manner, both by those you have judged, and by God. That, it would seem to me, is a pretty strong reason to be extremely motivated by mercy above any other consideration, even in the situation you feel yourself in now. When we believe there has been no justice we are drawn to judge others. But, God says, “be careful.” He understands the limitations that will always bar our quest for justice. But, even more so, He understands our nature to connect that failed “justice-quest” with the demand to then bring judgment. And, here is where He says remember, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Mercy triumphs over justice, but you have to make that connection via the “sinful-hearts-desire-to-bring-judgment” route when our “justice-quest” has been blocked.

So, what does this have to do with reconciliation you ask? Simply, seeking reconciliation ahead of justice is an act of mercy, especially so when pursued in the face of a lack of justice because you have intentionally forsaken judgment in order to show mercy. You demonstrate that God’s call to be merciful, even when you find yourself tempted to resort to judging others, triumphs over that lack of justice. And the motivation to do that is found in the fact that one day God will judge you by the same standard you have shown others. It is a promise He makes to you based on His own Word, and His own standard for judgment. And God cannot lie. But, don’t be tempted go beyond what God actually seeks here by your offer and efforts to be reconciled. Remember Romans 12:18. To the best of your personal ability you are to live at peace with everyone, but if that other person doesn’t respond to your efforts of reconciliation based on genuine repentance, confession, and forgiveness it is they, and not you, who has failed to show mercy. God knows the heart; no one else. You can be vast in your mercy and safely know that it is not in vain. He knows!

More theology, but, I hope also connected to compassion and care. Believing, true believing in the face of real life is the tough part, but, as our sister-in-Christ, Tara, has reminded you, you are not alone.

-Dave Edling


About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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