In the midst of a culture of perpetual judgment, God has called the church to be a people of mercy. We will receive mercy to the degree that we offer mercy, and judgment to the degree that we judge.
We live in a divisive time, where people with competing narratives are constantly attacking one another. These divisions often result in hopelessness as each side views the other as the enemy. Shared trust is largely eroded. This pushes people into a quarantined experience where they only connect with people who think the same way, thereby reinforcing an “us vs. them” mindset.
This quarantined experience is driven by confirmation bias where the pleasure centers are activated when we agree with another while the amygdala is triggered when we disagree. The correctness of your views and the righteousness of the causes you stand for becomes perfectly obvious to you and, you assume, to all reasonable people. Everyone is feeding off of the need to be right and to label all others as wrong.
The question we face as the church is if we can model a third way, not withholding our perspective, but offering a new way of interacting with others about difficult matters. In a world full of judgment, can we be a people of mercy?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful.” Mercy basically means pardon of a guilty verdict, as one receives kindness instead of the deserved judgment. God by his grace has mercy on us: he frees us from the self-destructive consequences of sin. In addition, there is also a broader meaning to mercy. It occurs when we show unexpected kindness to someone or something that is outside the bounds of the accepted norm.
The opposite of mercy is judgment. To judge is to conclude that another person should get what they deserve. Judgments reduce people down to a label. To address a person as an individual requires time because it calls for us to love. To judge means that we treat people as an object that either brings us pleasure or anger.
Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3). The judgment you give is the judgment you’re going to eventually get. Throughout the Bible you find that the punishment for sin is built into the sin itself. Sin is inherently self-destructive, which is why God went to such great lengths to save us from it. This applies to our judgment of others. The way we judge others will ricochet back upon us.
We cannot love and judge at the same time. Love is about valuing others at cost to self, no matter their merits. This is the kind of love that God offered to us on the cross. Judgment is loving ourselves at cost to others. This a form of idolatry. Judgment begets further judgment and left unchecked, judgments sooner or later get expressed as violence. To combat this, we must adopt the mindset of Paul when he wrote, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:15). When we see how we have received mercy, we can extend that to others.
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