During a recent trip to Northampton I was behind a small station wagon whose rear end was plastered with colorful bumper stickers. One in particular caught my eye: Sow justice; reap security. I glanced at the woman driving the car. The white-haired woman in her 70’s looked as though she would be right at home in the counter-cultural mecca of Northampton. This city of about 29,000 has been rated by Epodunk as the most politically liberal medium-sized city in the country, so it isn’t unusual to get a lesson in civics just by driving through town. But this bumper sticker got me thinking.
Justice. Inherent in the word is the idea of right conduct, fair treatment, as well as the administration of punishment for wrong behavior.
But how does one go about ‘sowing justice’? And if it is sown, how does that translate into a causative agent for security? Was the maker of that bumper sticker referring to economic security? Peace of mind? Hope for the future? I don’t know the intent behind the words, but they did cause me to stop and consider: do I really want justice?
Our court system has the challenging job of providing justice for victims of crime. This is right and good as God has set up governments that ‘we may lead peaceful and quiet lives.’ But on a personal level, in relationships, it seems to me that justice is the last thing most of us should really desire. In some abstract sense we want justice because we think if we have been wronged, the serving of justice will bring a sense of satisfaction, the pleasure of being ‘right’ in the eyes of others, or even perhaps a change in circumstances. But is this necessarily true? If all the details of a life are examined, is there a guarantee of vindication?
King David was a man who loved God. He valued God’s words more than gold and said there was great reward in keeping God’s commands. But even this giant of the faith said, “Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” David understood himself well. He realized that there were flaws buried so deep within, that they were potentially hidden even from him. There was no confident self-righteousness in David, but rather a humble awareness of his propensity to sin.
We tend to cry out for justice when we have been wronged; when we are the offender, we prefer mercy. How different our relationships might be if, instead of demanding justice, we cultivate the habit of sowing mercy.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13