Justice versus Mercy

September 19, 2017

“Everyone has won, and all must have prizes” - Lewis Carroll- The Alice Books In regard to the age-old conflict and debate arising from conflict concerning Justice versus Mercy; I would like to add another coupling of terms in a grapple of antagonism: Logic versus Grace. Logic most often sides with Justice; and Grace with Mercy.

Don’t switch off here – this essay is NOT about the UK and its politics. There’s an interesting statistic of recent currency which has arisen out of academic research made into the psychology of those who in Britain voted for or else against the UK leaving the EU in the Referendum held here last year.

This statistic seems to me to be a cool illustration highlighting some of the ‘baggage’ being carried by that electorate, in regard to persons in general being either pro Grace and Mercy or else pro Logic and Justice. Pretty well mutually-exclusively so.

This statistic claims that all persons polled who answered ‘considerate’ to the question put to them voted on the side of remaining in the EU; and that no-one polled who answered ‘well-behaved’ to the same question voted to stay in the EU. The question put to them was: “Would you rather your children were considerate of others or else well-behaved?" Fascinating I think. Says something. Let the psychologists decide. Or the educationalists?

Let’s move on. I have a volume , one single volume of the works of a Puritan Preacher of the 17th century in Britain and his name was Thomas Manton. It is one volume of around thirty he has extant. Thomas Manton is a cool read. He is very severely Puritan; but his mind is razor sharp and for all his sympathies for Justice and Logic, his mind perceives often whereabouts I have not been before.

Thomas Manton offers this argument (paraphrased by me) against the wisdom of assuming that Christ prays even for the unregenerate who are predestined to perdition. Heavy stuff eh?

He says that Christ’s care and his saving work, as well as those items which his saving work has obtained for men and women; none of this ought to be considered to be falling ‘to the ground’ as he puts it. Thus were Christ to be praying for unregenerates predestined to perdition his work and those benefits and merits he has gained would be ‘falling to the ground’ in this regard.

Now the Justice and Logic crew would maybe cite Christ himself saying ‘ Cast not your pearls before swine’; whereas the Mercy and Grace crew might cite Christ saying: ‘ "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Christ insists in his parable of the Wedding Feast that the Master’s servant should go out to the vagabonds of society and so drag them into the Feast by force if necessary. “I will have my house filled’says the Master. Thomas Manton’s argument convinced me for a time – it was so nicely made – until I thought it through some more and saw that his logic was impeccable but perhaps a bit too impeccable? But this is what the further reaches of Puritanism is all about – making doctrine square up to the demands of reason in its stricter form - as being logical.

There are plenty of caveats to be made – are made – in scripture; which counter a use of a stern logic in the interpretation of God’s dealings with men and women. “Those things which are impossible for men are possible with God’ “With God, all things are possible’ “God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform” I won’t go on.

Our logic, as men and women, has taken a turn for the worse even in the field of science where it is very well at home. Quantum physics and sub atomic physics, and several other branches of science and its studies are at an impasse in their use of human logic to formulate ideas about what might be going on in Creation. “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea.” It appears possible that our scientific inquiry into the workings of nature may have to be finding a new idea of ‘logic’ radical and non-intuitive, so as for it to go yet further into those depths. Get hold of Rupert Sheldrake’s book ‘The Science Delusion’ - an Oxbridge scientist speaking to scientists about good science and what it actually means. Sheldrake is called a ‘heretic’ by logician-type scientists; although his lines of argument are persuasive and eminently rational. Check him out.

Certainly there appears every chance that:

a) God’s ‘logic’ is something we are not (yet?) capable of understanding AND

b) Our own logic might well become ‘curiously extended’ in future days, perhaps soon, when the next Great Leap in science etc is made by someone as yet unknown, unsung, maybe unborn?

Should my surmises turnout to be prophetic, then such an extension to the common conceptions of present logic will have serious repercussions for Theologians; maybe, I hope, making the rigid severe logic of the Predestinarians, like that of their secular brothers and sisters in arms; the determinists; a logic superseded and to some extent outmoded. Just as in the same way that Newton’s Laws are now a localised tool in the smaller spaces of the Universe and Einsteinian space in much bigger quantities runs under quite radically different rules to Newton’s?

As for that group of Christians whose love of Charity and Grace and Mercy persuades them, in a way which reflects all credit upon them, to believe that God admits ‘in the end’ everyone to His Wedding feast: the Universalists; these Christians are faced with some hard ‘old’ logical dilemmas.

The most common objection to their position of free and absolute love to all from God is said often resentfully by other Christians: “Then what’s the point of it all?” Like the guy who turns against a good friend and colleague because that friend and colleague has won the lottery; and the guy is put out and jealous and inflamed because it was not himself ‘”who deserved it better than his friend did”.

I am of an age and of an era in which I was taught at school the adage that – “It is not the winning or losing which matters; but the taking part and the love of the game for its own sake”

So I myself sympathise with the Universalist position. Although either way – a few or the many or even all saved makes not one bit of difference to the way we are called by Christ to live our lives. The fact of contingency in all worldly things was acknowledged by Jesus himself when he said as a rebuke to some doubtful persons: “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said to them, Suppose you that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think you that they were sinners above all men that dwelled in Jerusalem? I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish”. In regard to all worldly things the words of The Preacher of Ecclesiastes holds good: “Time and chance happeneth to all” Jesus here specifically tells us not to go chasing after proofs of God’s Justice or otherwise; not to presume and interpret as our selfish wishes prompt us too; he tells us there is no searching of God’s ways for humankind; that one is obliged to look to one's own condition first and before and above all; especially before trying to “pull out the mote from within your brother’s eye” we are advised to “be sure that the mote in our own eye has been pulled beforehand”. “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” In this life, as all of us know, everything which is available to humankind is wholly ‘up for grabs’ the good things and the evil things, and life itself is a Great Big Lottery whereupon some get a good portion of what they want and desire; and some get little or nothing of what they desire. And these objects of desire whether they are good or evil, humankind often takes little true regard;  or even is scarce able to make the judgement. This Jesus acknowledges to be the case.

Hence, by our passing-to-redundancy logic we can say quite securely that no-one knows whom it is who might be saved or lost; whom it is who might be predestined either way; whether or not everyone will see Paradise; or if not all of us will. Jesus at his most sublimely enigmatic, frightening, and fiercely authoritative tells us that: “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” Truly we are not told which, either the one left or the one taken, is to have the better lot? We are told of that Day’s suddenness in its overtaking us unexpectedly and peremptorily. The story is told us for our good; for us to observe what Jesus tells us elsewhere: “Watch and pray.” The essence of Jesus in this extract from the Gospels about the Coming of the Son of Man remains as Jesus himself ever does focused wholly upon our behaviour and outlooks. The kernel of what he teaches here is in the words: _“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” _ And so we are being taught that life is about renunciation, about abnegation of self; about self-sacrifice and about generally, like Jesus ever does, we are to point away from ourselves and point towards those persons and places where there is need and straitened circumstance; giving any glory which arises from doing so to God solely and wholly. Need and straitened circumstance may take a host of different forms and shapes and sizes; and each of us is called by her/his talents and gifts to use them in those special directions towards which they tend and are effectual.

As inquirers after God we are told specifically in many ways and at many times that we are not to seek after knowledge which is private and privy only to God; for instance, whom it is who is taken and whom it is who is left: this is all useless speculation on our parts; for there is no querying God in this at all in any way. All our answers are man-made; and so are not relevant.

So why are hours and years, reams and quires of paper, and of virtual space given over to such toils and impertinent investigations? Simply I suggest two reasons; both hardly palatable:

  1. For the sake of intellectual pride and pride in one’s person. To show off one’s intellect. To make a division between men and women so that one’s own personal identity is better fortified and shored up (illegitimately). To wield power over others in one’s domains and purlieus; to be seen as a perspicacious person and a knowing.
  2. To seek to do more than is permitted to us as human beings. To overtop the next man or woman in achievement; as measured by the numbers of followers and amounts of adulation one receives. To prove ourselves better than is the next man or woman; better beloved of God – or rather of oneself. “Vanity of vanities – all is vanity saith The Preacher”.

Our calling by our Lord Jesus is to do those good works which he has for us to do in his Father’s name and to his Father’s sole glory and not ours in any way. We are instruments, conduits, vessels, neither of wrath nor of Grace – we just do not know – for ‘there but for the Grace of God goes you or I” and perhaps someone somewhere is saying or thinking this same thought about us ourselves as we here are sitting thinking it of others? “Let he who is without sin among ye cast the first stone at her”. At anyone. Unless it be at oneself. “Laborare est orare” said the Romans: ‘work is prayer’. In the vineyard for the chance of the same reward allcomers are invited.