I entered the conversation, hoping to make some new friends and learn a little about the subject they were discussing. I hoped my awkwardness wasn’t noticeable as I tried to seamlessly jump in. They seemed interested and welcoming, and I was excited to be made part of their group.
We chatted for a while and enjoyed the company. But the moment quickly turned another direction. At one point in our encounter, someone made a comment to me that was hurtful. What they said was not a big deal. I wanted to give them grace. Still, it’s hard to not let little remarks burrow into our heart and cast a shadow – even if they’re small.
It only took the one instance to remember how tender our hearts can be, especially if we’ve been wounded before. I was reminded of times when unkindness felt familiar, carrying with it a flood of emotions and memories. I told myself this person was probably just having a bad day and didn’t mean any harm. But I couldn’t deny it stung.
A few minutes later, someone else who overheard the conversation stopped me. She had tracked me down just to say, “I’m sorry they said that to you.”
There was something powerful imbedded in both things that were said to me. One caused some amount of hurt, even though it was minor. The other told me it was okay to be hurt, and that helped soothe the sting. I wanted to melt into a puddle of gratefulness. It felt like a new realization I was discovering all over again, to be reminded that it was okay to admit being bruised. It was okay that wounds from past hurts still burn from time to time when memories are dug up by current circumstances.
When we experience pain, it seems like most of the messages we receive try to convince us to quickly let it go and move on. After all, we’re not supposed to remember the wrongs done against us. We’re not supposed to hold them against those who inflicted the pain. Instead, we’re supposed to forgive.
And it’s true. It’s truth grounded in God’s Word which we should plant in our heart so it can take root. We should fill our minds with thoughts and intentions of forgiveness so that the Lord can gently bring it to our attention and convict us as He softens our bitterness with His graciousness. But it’s not supposed to be words we preach at hurting people to invalidate their pain. First, we need to see them and acknowledge their hurt. We have to hear them. We have to fight alongside them against the lies of this world that come rushing in with the small, continuous attacks on our heart. God’s truth doesn’t just instruct us to forgive those who wound us. He tells us that the sin is wrong, too.
Micah 6:8 summarizes how these two concepts can fit together. It tells us the standard for how God desires we live. Do justice. Love Mercy. Walk humbly with Him. Our hearts should always be in step with His. This means that we are called to love what He loves, and follow His example that He has given us through Christ.
It can be difficult to wrap our minds around the mingling of both justice and mercy. One seeks to right wrongs, and enforces consequences when we fall short of the standards to which we’ve been called. The other offers grace, wiping away the penalty we deserve, and giving us a fresh start. On the surface, they seem like opposing concepts. How can we adhere to both? Still, in the Lord, they are not only brought together, they fit perfectly in agreement.
Being able to pursue justice and be generous with mercy is a freeing reality as we face the hurt and heartache of this world. People commit sins that affect is deeply. It isn’t fair. Justice tells us that we are not wrong to acknowledge the wound or desire that it be made right. We want to be made whole, and we want to see those who have hurt us turn around and live a new life. At the same time, justice is not our responsibility. We are called to adhere to the standard of what is just as we interact with others, but God is the one who enforces consequences for sin. That is why we are also instructed to love mercy. Mercy enables us to forgive and move forward when wrongs are committed against us, letting God address repentance. It is not an easy task, but it is right. It is the pathway to true freedom.
Mercy is not intended as an excuse to forgo being upset when we are hurt; it is a means of not holding those wrongs against others, so that we do not further the injustice with our bitterness. We should give grace, because grace has been given to us.
Do call it wrong, and don’t commit a wrong in return. Love that we are enabled to give grace and not be bound by the pain. Stay close to God and commit to this path He has set before us.
This is how we can stay in focus with the way God has called us to live. The reality of each of our sin is great, and justice is real. We cannot escape the consequence of separation from God when we are not faithful with what He has asked us to do and how He has called us to live. The sins committed – by us or by others against us – are wrong. But no matter what has been done, there is grace in Christ. What a great privilege it is that we can mirror Christ’s footsteps in extending grace to others.