Monday, July 8, 2013

Justice and Mercy

I got a ticket on the way to King's Pointe waterpark last Friday.  The irony is that I was in the middle of an informal driver's ed lesson with my youngest ("A double yellow line means no traffic can pass; when the line is dotted on our side, we can pass;" etc.) when I saw the cop's lights start to flash and he turned around to pull up behind me.

The road had just narrowed from a four-lane highway to a two-lane highway, and I hadn't noticed the speed limit went down from 65 to 55.  That makes 67 in a 55 sound not as bad, right?  In theory, I suppose.  But I was bracing myself for a big ticket.

The policeman was very friendly. He was also very kind and merciful.  When he brought me my ticket, he explained that he wrote that I was driving 60 so the fine would be less.  Now THAT's something I've never experienced before.  I thanked him appreciatively and inched back on the highway slowly and carefully.

"That's was nice of him to write down a lower speed," I commented to my daughter.

"But . . . it was a lie.  Isn't that wrong for him to do?" she asked.  

Sigh.  Well, maybe so.  But I explained that he was being merciful, and mercy is a good thing -- and she seemed satisfied.

But it did gnaw at me a bit, because the truth was, the policeman was probably wrong to do that.  He wasn't being just; he wasn't dealing with me as my transgressions deserved.  Yeah, I know we can start talking about my intentions and my past driving record and the severity of the crime and the obscurity of the speed limit sign, and we can find all sorts of ways to rationalize that I didn't deserve a ticket for 67 in a 55.  But the truth is, that's exactly what I did, and the law prescribes a specific penalty for that, and he did not uphold that law.  Not that I'm complaining, but it's a fact.

We like to think of justice as being a bit squishy when it needs to be applied to us in our transgressions and as rock hard solid when it needs to be applied to us in our victimizations.  But a just judge simply applies the law rightly every time.  I commented quite a while back about a Tim Keller book where he explains a cultural difference in the way we view God in our world.  In the Western world, we are troubled with how a loving God could punish someone severely.  In other parts of the world, they are troubled with how a just God can NOT punish someone severely for great sin they committed.  That wouldn't be just.

And God is both just and loving.  The fullness of both extremes, as I wrote recently.  This dilemma is the meaning behind the cross.  A just God could not allow sin to go unpunished.  A loving God had to provide a way to save his children.

After nearly 45 years of churchy life, it's amazing how much I keep coming to understand about the cross.


Aunt V said...

I can just see this ! ha! I like to think that others give mercy at times but that it is a gift when it happens and not an expectation that we should get off the hook. Hopefully we do better moving forward

Mattie said...

If it helps, policemen are given authority to use judgement in determining if you should give a ticket or warning. However when you talk about truth it's a different story. I am so grateful I don't get what I deserve. God's grace and mercy are much appreciated.