"For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."
Here's a chilling verse. Maybe you'd like it better in the King James version (1605... just for the record, but a great piece of scholarship for the time)...
"For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment."
Or the New American Standard Bible (1960)
"For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."
Why am I doing this? Because I'm not totally sure what the passage means. Since I'm not a Greek scholar the best way I've got of 'getting it right' is to read the passage is several translations. Once I do that I sometimes take a crack at the literal Greek using Strong's Concordance and a good lexicon. Here's what came out when I tried a literal translation:
"For justice (judicial decision) will be swift and inexorable where there was no swift mercy; (and) mercy exalts itself over judicial decision."
We live in a culture that absolutely hates the idea of "judgment". If there is a biblical montra for this age it is "Don't judge and you won't be judged." But what does the post-modernist mean in saying "don't judge?" I think it ranges from "don't have an opinion about anything I believe" to "don't tell me what you think I should do or how I should behave." But that's not at all what the concept of judgment in the Scriptures is about. The word we're translating as judgment is really "decision" in the sense of a court of law handing down a decision against a plaintiff. The other, namby-pamby-mealy-let's-just-be-nice-to-everyone kind of 'judgment' has no teeth. The reason is that the judgmental person has no power of judgment, in a judicial way, over the person he/she is judging. And I don't care how "nice" of a person you are. We ALL do judge in this way. Even if it is just commenting on the driving habits of the person in the next car, we're 'judging'.
The kind of judgment James is talking about is a judgment-with-bite. In order for someone to hand down a judicial decision one must have authority to execute judgment against the plaintiff. The example James uses of this kind of judgment is the juxtaposition of rich and poor that happens all the time in the church. Those of you who go to churches where folks still "dress up?" What would happen if someone came to church in jeans and a tee shirt? Don't tell me you and your friends would fall all over yourselves to get that person a Bible, a hymnal, and rush to displace Miss Nickerson who always sits in the second row, first seat on the left. And if you did all that for this stranger-than-we'd-like person, how many weeks would THAT go on before you assigned a deacon to tell them in-no-uncertain-terms what the dress-code is here at First Presbaptigationpalian Church. And for you more casual folks who think you've got the dress-code thing conquered, what would you do if someone came in with tattoos or lots of metal? Or what if a gay couple joined you for worship? How long before you offered words of correction? Because the church building is "yours", you are in a position to execute judicial judgment. And you know what? Most of us DO.
Most of us never get the profound honor of entering into a serious discussion with someone whose manner of dress or way of life is far from ours. Why? Because we don't let those people get under our skin. We don't let them become, in the most real sense, our neighbor. So most of us "Christians" don't ever engage with the world because our xenophobic jailhouse keeps us "safe" from all that. We never get to speak the truth with our neighbor (note I didn't say "to") because we don't want to risk being changed or finding ours was the ungodly way. You don't need to stop speaking the whole counsel of God in order to love well. You just have to learn to LISTEN first and SPEAK second.
Now I'M going to shut up and listen...
PS... here's a challenging link for you from a young voice speaking to the church: www.speaklisten.com
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.