The following is a reflection that comes strictly from my Christian convictions, so if that isn’t your thing, feel free to click somewhere else…
We hear a lot about justice these days. Sometimes the context is clearly judicial in the sense of someone seeking or receiving justice for some illegal act. At other times, “justice” becomes something of a code word for those who would freely take from those who have and give to those that have less (although it’s hard to see how that’s justice if not given freely by those who have).
A related term is “mercy.” We hear about people throwing themselves on the mercy of the court or pleading for mercy. It is an acknowledgment that punishment may be deserved, but a plea to not suffer such consequences.
In my worldview (which is unapologetically Christian), these two words have a third term that belongs in the same conversation – “grace.” I don’t recall where I first heard the following definitions of these three terms many years ago, but they have stuck with me and make a lot of sense, so I offer them to you here:
Justice: Getting what you deserve
Mercy: Not getting what you deserve
Grace: Getting more than you deserve
It seems that when it comes to the judicial system, we’re quick to want justice when the one being punished is someone else. Yet we are quick to want mercy when we are the ones deserving of punishment. That seems a bit two-faced to me.
These terms have the most meaning for me in the context of my faith. What I deserve is justice. What I might plead for in my wildest hopes is mercy – not getting what I deserve. But what I have been given by a loving God is grace – far, far more than I could ever deserve.
I pray that I never forget that, and I hope than in the course of living with others I demonstrate that same grace to those around me regardless of what they deserve.
Leap year lesson #140 is Live the difference between justice, mercy and grace.