Chapter 18 – Sharing Virtue – Justice, Dignity, and Mercy

Justice:  to execute right judgment in accord with the Word of God; discernment in accord with Truth; divine equity, giving others what they are due in regards to recognizing the dignity of all mankind; to exact what is due, holding the guilty accountable; righteous discernment when considering mercy or punitive measures

Dignity:  to honor and respect all souls as precious beings created by God

Mercy:  willingness to forgive; showing unqualified kindness to strangers, enemies or the otherwise undeserving; graciousness, compassion, loving-kindness, benevolence

 

A recurring theme of the Bible is that we are to give to others what God has given us.  It is likewise taught that what we do for others will be returned to us (Mt.6:5, 12, 14-15, 7:1-2, 12).  If our hearts are not moved to showing others the goodness of God simply out of our love for Him, knowing that we reap what we sow (Gal.6:7-8) should tempt even the most selfish souls to show a little kindness towards others and abstain from injustice.  Here is where we learn that our pursuit of virtue requires sharing our gifts.  There are two items to note here in the economy of God.  First, sharing the virtues of justice, dignity and mercy need not exact a monetary or material cost, especially when returns are taken into account.   Second, when we share spiritual things our quantity is doubled, not halved as with physical things.  A full share for both giver and receiver, and likewise, repetitive shares do not create smaller fractions, but replicate and grow by multiplication.  Praise God!

 

The virtues of justice, dignity and mercy should collectively govern all our relationships.  Whether our interaction is one on one, one to many, or many to many, they are the guide wires that keep us on track with God.  Their interaction, like the twined cord, proves strong and lasting, garnering ways protected by God.  Without them, relationships, businesses and nations collapse as they run contrary to God.  Justice ensures that we treat others fairly and impartially.  Affirming the dignity of all souls brings the presence of God to bear upon all human interaction.  Likewise, the divine origin of mercy elevates relationships into the heavenly realm while addressing the needs of otherwise undeserving souls, bearing witness to the goodness of God.

 

Justice

 

Justice assumes law.  The Law of God is recorded in the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and is applicable to all mankind.   The Law is based on the value system of God, predicated upon fairness and impartiality towards all peoples.  Justice requires knowledge of Truth and wisdom from God in order to rightly discern and execute the will of God.  The execution of justice is to be entrusted to honest souls who value virtue and are not swayed by selfish, self-serving motives.  Justice is righteousness in action, ensuring that everyone’s God ordained rights are upheld.  As we affirm the dignity of others, we preserve our own by acknowledging the higher Law of God that declares all souls are precious to Him, including ourselves.  The opposite is also true; when we inflict an injustice upon another soul, we rob ourselves of dignity by not adhering to the value system that gives it to us while debasing ourselves with sin.  Also, what we do to one soul makes a statement about how we assess humanity overall.  Justice ceases to exist when dignity is compromised because the Law of God has not been upheld; therefore, godly discernment is required to recognize fair application of the Law.

 

To execute justice, to judge another soul as being guilty of an offense and take recourse to rectify, may on the surface appear unloving and contrary to merciful forgiveness.  It is neither.  Assuming that our discernment is righteous and the offense real, failure to hold the guilty accountable is contrary to the Law and therefore compromises dignity, in essence lying to the offender by saying that their behavior is acceptable when it is not.  A person needs to be convinced of their guilt in order to correct their erroneous beliefs that compromise the dignity of their victims as well as themselves.  Holding the guilty accountable is how this is accomplished.  Our forgiveness neither absolves guilt for an offense nor exonerates the perpetrator; it is a pardon after sentencing on a personal level.  It is unloving to allow a soul to live in darkness and condemnation; enforcing His Law by holding the guilty accountable is a testimony for the Truth of God.  It allows the offender to see and experience the will of God in action.  When felons serve prison time, they have been given a sure message that their behavior is wrong and that they need to repent of their ungodliness.  Capital punishment may seem like eye for an eye retribution or compounding evil with evil, but sentencing a murderer to meet our Creator may just be what it takes to bring such a soul to repentance.  Forfeiting time on Earth pales in comparison to the penalty of eternal condemnation.  Also in the administration of justice, by sentencing felons according to the severity of their crimes, we protect others and prevent the creation of more victims, which is likewise an act of love.  It is a sign of ungodly delusion when someone condemns the innocent while failing to hold the guilty accountable as exemplified by taking a political position against capital punishment while promoting the practice of aborting the life of womb-bound babies.

 

In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, the story is told of the woman caught in adultery who is then brought before Jesus by the Pharisees, the religious and civil rulers of the era.  The woman was publicly arrested amid her passion, dragged disrobed and disheveled across town, and brought into the synagogue’s courtyard where Jesus was teaching a gathering of worshippers.  According to the Law, the penalty for adultery among the chosen people of God prior to Christianity was to throw stones at the guilty until dead (Lev.20:10).  Though the penalty seems quite harsh, it exemplifies how we are to treat any sin in our lives, totally obliterate it and prevent further contamination to our families and communities.  God is holy, and we are to be holy as God is holy (Lev.11:44).  The Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus to see whether He would uphold the Law and consent to her stoning.  Jesus and the Pharisees were often at odds with each other over the application of the Law; they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath and blasphemy.  Jesus declared that they were replacing godliness with religious observance, that by their pretense of piety instead of pursuing inner virtue, they “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel” (Mt.23:13-33).

 

On this occasion, the Pharisees were guilty of a variety of offenses.  First and foremost, they failed to acknowledge the deity of Christ Jesus, the ultimate judge (Mt.19:28), an offense that brings condemnation (Jn.3:16-21).  Secondarily, they were unwittingly putting God to a test which we are told not to do (Deut.6:16, Mt.4:7).  The list of their offenses committed in this act of arrogance before God goes on, however, it is enough for us here to see that they were wrongly motivated and therefore nullified themselves as being worthy judiciaries.  Jesus rebuked the gnat-straining, camel-drinkers by pointing out their hypocrisy and poor discernment concerning the Law.  Their motivations for bringing this woman to Jesus included revenge, self-justification, hatred, self-preservation, and contempt, while quite lacking in the virtues of humility and compassion.

 

While they held the woman in front of Him, Jesus knelt and wrote in the loose dirt upon the ground about their feet.  Whatever He wrote, it seemed to bring their hearts into conviction, for they began to walk away one by one when Jesus invited anyone without sin among them to throw the first rock.  It was then that Jesus turned to the woman and executed justice with mercy.  Her guilt obvious, her shame sincere, with repentance in her heart and her confession of Christ Jesus as Lord forthcoming, Jesus knowing the hearts of human souls (Mt.9:4, Lk.16:15), forgave her sins as only God can do.  His instruction to “go and sin no more”, acknowledges both the sin and its penalty of condemnation.  Jesus, acting in His full authority as Son of God, is ever justified.  In Christ we are likewise justified (Rom.5:1-9, 1Cor.6:11, Titus 3:4-8) and entrusted with the authority and responsibility of executing justice as a ministry and in service to God and man.

 

Dignity

 

Dignity is the virtue that acknowledges the value of all human life as being sacred.  Mankind is the most valued of all creation because we are created in His image as spiritual beings.  Dignity is the pivot point upon which the arms of justice rest; the scales of justice are useless and corrupt when dignity is compromised.  All judicial decisions must affirm the dignity of all litigants in order to be fair.  A crime is an offense against the Law, and the Law is based on upholding the sacred order of creation, especially the dignity of mankind.  Crime is as much a sinful affront to God as it is an offense against an individual or a community.  Crime is not to be compounded by the sin of injustice.  Holding the guilty accountable out of hope for their repentance and restoration is not a thought born of rationalization or cowardice, it is obediently accepting the responsibility to uphold the Law and prevent the creation of more victims; it is one way to combat evil.  All crimes violate the dignity of the victims.  A murderer doesn’t acknowledge another person’s right to life.  A thief doesn’t recognize the right of others to possess their own property.  A rapist doesn’t value the right of persons to possess their own body, soul or spirit.  Offenders demean themselves by their actions, becoming known by their ungodly behavior rather than virtue.

 

The severity of crime is measured by the degree of injury to our human dignity; a victim’s emotional pain is the perceived loss of dignity.  However, as painful as being a victim can be, this perceived loss of dignity is not based on Truth because as Christians our dignity comes from God and is therefore permanent and not subject to the forces of the physical realm.  Our dignity is neither upheld nor compromised by how people treat us, or even how we treat ourselves.  The source of our dignity is in the hands of God, not people, and especially not the ungodly.

 

As we learn the virtue of dignity, we learn to affirm the worth of others and ourselves.  Remembering people’s names, showing simple courtesies, opening doors and yielding so others may go before us, are all ways to affirm another’s dignity.  Learning dignity keeps us from abusing others with insulting or demeaning words or actions.  The virtue of dignity is not to be compromised by the value system of the flesh (Phil.3:8), or by any form of discrimination, prejudice or personal bias that serves to devalue another soul.  The more intimate the relationship, the greater the need for dignity for it to be healthy and spiritually uplifting.  Nagging, nit picking, criticizing and intimidation can all undermine a relationship by gnawing away at a person’s sense of self worth.  Over time, such sustained abuse can eventually lead to a variety of anxiety or personality disorders for those whose identity isn’t firmly based on Truth.  Children are especially vulnerable; therefore, they need continual affirmation in order to grow up knowing dignity.  We all need dignity to be spiritually and mentally healthy.  We need to know that we have value and that our lives have significance.  This prevents making life decisions based on a sense of worthlessness that leads to reckless behaviors such as promiscuity, abuse of intoxicants, and crime.  Without regressing into a legalistic mentality, other behaviors that compromise dignity that should cause us to check our motivations include mocking, sarcasm, malicious teasing and gossip, ostracizing, insults, sass, ridicule, dishonesty, disloyalty, manipulation, and imposition.  Checking these should prevent lapsing into the more grotesque assaults upon dignity, a list that includes torture, slavery, abduction, sadistic dominance or masochism, terrorism, thievery, murder, extortion, prostitution, usury, exploitation, and oppression.

 

As with crime, another demonic ploy devised as an attempt to strip souls of their God ordained dignity, is to create institutions that seek to deprive individuals of their right to self-determination.  When God created us, He gave us free will that we might choose to worship Him on our own volition so that our exaltation of Him would be pure and not compromised by compulsion or the inability to choose.  God has no need to fear the loss of influence and therefore has no need to enforce conformity; He allows us our mistakes so that we might learn and come to worship Him voluntarily.  We are to uphold the dignity of others by giving to them what God has given us, the use of free will.  Institutions that impose ideologies and lifestyles upon their constituents by use of force or severe punishments are not motivated by the love of God, but rather by such things as the fear of men, fear of death, selfish self promotion, pride, lust for power or control, greed, or even outright defiance to God the Creator.  Also, as with all crime, such institutions require His children to redress in order to uphold justice.  There is virtue in the effort to free souls from such tyranny.

 

Mercy

To be merciful is to express the loving-kindness of God to an undeserving soul.  Genuine mercy has but one motivation, to show others the mercy God has shown us.  Being merciful acknowledges the enormity of our sin-debt to God, and seeks to alleviate it in miniscule ways by sharing the grace of God with others.  Being merciful is contrary to every fiber of mankind’s flesh because mercy, like holiness, is uniquely divine in origin.  Secular substitutes may produce the appearance of sympathy or benevolence, but without personally acknowledging our indebtedness to God for the restoration of mankind through Christ Jesus, there is no mercy.  Outpourings of humanistic kindness do not qualify as expressing the virtue of mercy because of not being motivated by the goodness of God.

 

If there is a rarity of mercy in our lives, it may be due to lack of remembrance or possibly the fact that acts of mercy require certain conditions.  For us to express mercy toward another, they need to owe us a debt or otherwise be in need, and be undeserving of any due consideration save for the love of God.  Forgiving the offenses of friends and loved ones is righteous but not necessarily merciful.  Jesus outlines the criteria for mercy in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5:38-48).  He speaks of mercy as a quality of the sons of God, of showering His goodness upon both the righteous and the unrighteous, without partiality.  The intent here is not to subject mercy to a litany of legalistic considerations, but rather to distinguish and elevate mercy to its rightful and proper place.  We do this so that we may be free of delusion as we seek to expand the Kingdom of God on Earth by sharing with others what He has given us (Mt.6:10; 28:18-20).  The bible makes it quite clear that we are to show mercy to others as God has mercifully shown us mercy.  When we do so, we invite the furthering of His mercies in His providential care for us.  Discerning His mercy may be difficult to distinguish from His goodness in daily circumstances, but anytime we fail to receive punitive consequences for ungodliness, or recognize we’ve been doubly blest, we should pause and give praise and thanks to God for His goodness and His mercy.  Mercy is very pleasing to God and He showers rewards upon those whose deeds are merciful.  Our expressions of mercy are evidence of the Holy Spirit within us.

 

A falling leaf may be blown helter-skelter by shifting winds, but the will of God is like the flow of a river that takes the fallen leaf only in the direction of its current.  Likewise, as we learn to abide in the Holy Spirit, we should be sensitive to His call for mercy when we would otherwise in the flesh chaotically react or systematically retaliate.  Mercy is contrary to the carnal desires for reprisals, retributions or revenge that are symptomatic of living in the flesh.  A soul would be most blest not to have these passions, but we are none-the-less called upon to express the love of God without partiality and without thought for another’s deservedness.  Again, we do this in remembrance of His love for us as expressed by the giving of His Son in propitiation for our sins.   Praising and thanking God for His mercy towards us should allow us to be cheerful in our expression of mercy.  It should likewise prevent us from being reluctantly motivated into compassionate deeds out of resignation, or fear of losing blessings, or discipline for disobedience.

 

The example of Jesus and His teachings tell us that we are not to ignore pleas for mercy and that God likewise acknowledges our pleas for His mercy (Mt.5:7, 18:23-35).  Mercy does not supplant the administration of justice; rather, it gives us more options in expressing the supremacy of His love.  Incarcerating those obsessed by evil is merciful in that it keeps them from compiling more misdeeds that contribute to the degradation of their soul, exacerbate their guilt, and lengthen their list of offenses to atone for should they come to repentance.  Mercy also acknowledges another’s dignity by deeming them worthy to receive loving-kindness and compassion.  Our mere distaste for the sight of pain, or distress for the sight of suffering, or any other aversions we harbor that inhibits our service to the needy, does not absolve us of responsibility or culpability for being merciful; courage is often needed prior to expressions of mercy.  Those blest with the gift of mercy are uniquely qualified to minister in hospices and hospitals as well as many types of public service.

 

Scriptural References:

 

Justice: 

Ex.23:1-8, ordinances to execute justice honestly with fairness and without partiality

Lev.19:15, ordinance against judicial injustice and partiality for whatever reason

Deut.1:16-17, instruction to administer justice fairly and impartially

Deut.16:19, justice is not to be distorted by partiality, bribery, or any unrighteousness

Deut.16:20, justice is to be the singular pursuit of nations

Deut.24:17-18, justice is not to be withheld from aliens or the dispossessed

Deut.27:19, failure to uphold justice with righteousness incurs the wrath of God

Ps.11:7, our Lord is righteous and loves justice, the upright come into His presence

Ps.33:5, God loves righteousness and justice

Ps.106:3, those who uphold justice in righteousness are blessed by God

Ps.112:5, conduct that is equitable and just brings blessings from God

Pr.8:12-21, wisdom from God is necessary to execute justice with righteousness

Pr.18:5, warning against siding with the ungodly or siding against the godly

Pr.21:15, the righteous find joy in justice while the ungodly fear the consequences

Pr.28:5, the ungodly have no appreciation for justice; righteousness brings understanding

Pr.29:7, the righteous seek justice for all, the ungodly show no such concern

Pr.29:26, true justice is ultimately the province of God

Is.1:13-20, be good and just; there are fatal consequences for ungodliness and injustice

Zech.7:8-10, dispense justice in Truth, do not rule in oppression or devise evil schemes

Mal.3:1-5, our Lord will come to execute justice and judge those who oppress and abuse

Mt.12:15-21, the cause of Christ brings justice to all peoples; justice will prevail

Mt.23:23-24, religious observance does not excuse the absence of faith, justice or mercy

Lk.11:42, Jesus asserts justice and love as integral components of worship

Lk.18:3-8, wait patiently and never doubt that God will execute justice

 

Dignity (to honor): 

Ps.8:3-9, a psalm recognizing the preciousness of mankind to God

Ps.15, a description of a life in accord with the economy of God

Pr.3:13-16, the true richness of life comes with the honor of wisdom

Pr.13:18, honor comes from the ability to hear, accept and respond to correction in Truth

Pr.15:33, the honor of wisdom requires humility

Pr.21:21, the pursuit of righteousness brings honor

Pr.31:25, a virtuous woman is blest with dignity

Ac.28:10, the righteous are given the respect of others and consideration for their needs

Rom.12:9-13, we are to honor our brothers and sisters in Christ preferentially

1Cor.12:21-26, church members are a single body and are honored or disgraced as one

Eph.5:33, we are to honor our spouses and affirm their dignity

Eph.6:2, we are to honor our parents and uphold their dignity

1Thes.4:3-8, sexual immorality compromises dignity; lust demeans a soul

1Thes.5:12-13, show honor and appreciate those whose occupation is service to our Lord

1Tim.5:17, honor gospel teachers, preachers and church elders who lead well

2Tim.2:19-21, cleansing ourselves of ungodliness brings honor from God

 

Mercy:

Ex.25:10-22, the construction of the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat of God

Ps.6:9, David pleas for the mercy of God who accepts his prayer

Ps.25:10, those who live by the Word of God will see His mercy in Truth

Ps.32:8-11, wickedness begets sorrow while trusting the ways of God elicits His mercy

Ps.33:16-19, to fear our Lord and have hope in His mercy keeps evil at bay

Ps.86:5-7, God has an abundance of mercy for those who call upon His name

Ps.103:11, the love and mercy of God is boundless towards those who fear Him

Ps.145:8-9, our Lord is merciful and His works attest to His great benevolence

Pr.3:3-4, being merciful in Truth brings honor from both God and our fellows

Pr.11:17, showing mercy is good for the soul while cruelty creates a troubled soul

Pr.14:21, being merciful to the poor bring happiness

Pr.14:31, we honor God by being merciful; contempt for God when we oppress the poor

Pr.28:13, openly confessing and forsaking sin will evoke the mercy of others

Dan.4:26-28, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar to be merciful to prolong his prosperity

Hos.6:6, showing others mercy is more pleasing to God than our religious practices

Mic.6:8, our Lord requires justice, mercy and humility in His presence

Zech.7:9-10, our Lord instructs us to administer justice with compassion and mercy

Mt.5:7, Jesus says the merciful shall be blest with mercy

Mt.9:13, Jesus instructs us to learn what Hos.6:6 means

Mt.9:27-31, two blind men plea to Jesus for mercy and sight; Jesus blesses them

Mt.17:14-18, a man pleads for mercy for his crazed son; Jesus casts out the demon

Mt.18:23-35, God has shown us great mercy; we should be merciful to others as well

Lk.1:76-79, Jesus by the mercy of God brings light into a dark world

Lk.6:32-36, God is merciful; therefore, we are to show mercy toward others

Lk.10:25-37, Jesus teaches us to show mercy without partiality, prejudice or selfishness

Lk.17:11-17, the mercy of God should bring us to express thankfulness and praise to God

Rom.11:30-36, praise for the wondrous mercy of God towards a sinful world

Rom.12:4-8, sharing the gift of mercy should be accompanied with cheerfulness

Eph.2:4-9, remembrance of the grace of God and His mercy

Heb.4:14-16, draw near to God when in need and be blest by His mercy

Jas.2:12-13, being merciful invites the mercies of God into our lives

Jas.3:17-18, seeking the wisdom of God leads to learning mercy

1Pet.1:3-9, by the mercy of God we are born anew into the fullness of eternal life

Jude 1:19-23, as we await the return of Christ, by His mercies we are to be merciful

 

Commentaries:

 

Justice:

“Justice is sometimes called discrimination [discernment]:  it establishes the just mean in every undertaking, so that there will be no falling short due to over-frugality, or excess on account of greed.  …the person able to hold fast to justice is neither dragged down through thoughtlessness, licentiousness, cowardice or greed… nor does he fall victim to craftiness, and overbearingness, to stupidity and over-frugality, to excessive astuteness and cunning. Rather he ‘judges with self-restraint’ and endures with patient humility, fully acknowledging that whatever he possesses he has received by grace, as St. Paul puts it (cf. 1Cor.4:7).”

“…the person to whom it is granted to keep the commandments gives not only his possessions but even his very life for his neighbour.  This is the perfect mercy; for just as Christ endured death on our behalf, giving all an example and a model, so we should die for one another, and not only for our friends, but for our enemies as well, should the occasion call for it.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 258-9

 

Dignity:

“The virtue of justice respects the rights of every person, not merely because it is unfair to do otherwise.  Rather, justice respects the personal rights because it respects the person, his or her sacredness as a child of God, created by God, with a right to live as fully human a life as possible.  Once we admit the sacredness of human life as an end in itself, justice issues become self-evident.  Once we acknowledge that each and every human being, regardless of age, intelligence, or race, has a God-given value that no one has the right to violate, then justice questions present their own answers.”

Mitch Finley, “The Catholic Virtues” © 1999 by Ligouri Publications, pg. 72

 

“The virtue of authentic justice cultivates respect for the dignity of all persons, for the right of all to the resources they need, and for the privilege of all to be involved in decisions that shape their lives.”

ibid. pg. 73

 

Mercy:

“Because He wishes to unite us in nature and will with one another, and in His goodness urges all humanity towards this goal, God in His love entrusted His saving commandments to us, ordaining simply that we should show mercy and receive mercy (cf. Mt.5:7).”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 173#45

 

 

“A truly merciful person is not one that deliberately gives away superfluous things, but one that forgives those who deprive him of what he needs.”

Ilias the Presbyter (12th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 37 #27

 

“The merciful person is he who gives to others what he has himself received from God, whether it be money, or food, or strength, a helpful word, a prayer, or anything else that he has through which he can express his compassion for those in need.  At the same time he considers himself a debtor, since he has received more than he is asked to give.  By Christ’s grace, both in the present world and in the world to come, before the whole of creation he is called merciful, just as God is called merciful (cf. Lk.6:36).”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 96-97

“To master the mundane will of the fallen self you have to fulfill three conditions.  First, you have to overcome avarice by embracing the law of righteousness, which consists in merciful compassion for one’s fellow beings; second, you have to conquer self-indulgence through prudent self-restraint, that is to say, through all-inclusive self-control; and, third, you have to prevail over your love of praise through sagacity and sound understanding, in other words through exact discrimination [discernment] in things human and divine, trampling such love underfoot as something cloddish and worthless.  All this you have to do until the mundane will is converted into the law of the spirit of life and liberated from domination by the law of the outer fallen self.  Then you can say, ‘I thank God that the law of the spirit of life has freed me from the law and dominion of death’ (cf. Rom.8:3).”

Nikitas Stithatos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg 82 #13

 

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One thought on “Chapter 18 – Sharing Virtue – Justice, Dignity, and Mercy

  1. Pingback: A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians | A Primer on Virtue

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