Saturday, April 28, 2018

Mercy AND Truth

Which is more important, truth or mercy? Difficult question. The problem is, most people will answer either "truth" or "mercy" and both of those are the wrong answer. The correct answer is neither; for neither truth or mercy is more important. Truth without mercy is just cold calculated facts, and mercy without truth is just sentimentalism. So we cannot have truth or mercy, we must have truth and mercy. For anyone to criticize truth at the cost of mercy is misunderstanding both of these things, and for anyone to criticize mercy over truth is also misunderstanding.

In today's day and age, we tend to have an overemphasis on mercy and an under-emphasis on truth. This comes not just from pagans outside, but also from some of those within Holy Mother Church. That is not healthy and will never help the faithful to know how to grow in holiness. If we pit two godly things against each other, all we do is cause confusion. And, needless to say, we have more than enough confusion in the Church today; we certainly do not need any more.

So what is it that people are doing when they emphasize mercy over truth? This usually happens when someone is afraid (or intimidated) by a particular truth and they want to find a way to get a "free ticket" to ignore the truth. Hence, they press mercy (because it sounds pious) and denigrate truth. If one presses mercy enough, many will eventually forget about the truth that is being pushed out. An example of this is the man who claimed that it was all right for him to commit adultery because God was "merciful" towards him and his temptations. He was sacrificing the truth of the 6th commandment for the sake of his personal feelings.

That is not, however, mercy. Mercy does not say "go ahead and dig yourself deeper in your sin and ignore the fact of God's judgment." To use mercy in this way, as I have said many times, is actually hurting the individual. Mercy is often called upon when someone feels pressed by God's law, and it is thus used more to support moral compromise than to communicate the genuine tenderness of a forgiving God. With how many people make decisions based on sentimental ideas, we should not be surprised that this happens. Yet, we should be saddened by it, and we should do what we can to avoid it. The sentimental mind makes choices regarding what feels good, not what is correct (i.e. what is true). On the other hand, truth is able to guard us and keep us thinking clearly (regardless of our feelings). Truth is able to help us when we feel the need to make a decision solely by our feelings.

When someone sees the need to be merciful (which is a good and godly thing to do) it should be done within the boundaries of the truth. Likewise when someone feels the need to apply a particular truth, he should do so within the boundaries of mercy, for just as much as mercy can be abused, so can truth. To take a truth and use it in a way that causes someone genuine harm, means that we have abused truth; for "blessed are the merciful" (especially when they are applying the wonderful truths of God). Truth should never be sacrificed, and mercy should never be sacrificed.

When someone sacrifices truth for the sake of mercy, what have we done to mercy? He has made it into an idol (no matter who it is who does this). As we read in the first letter of St. John: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." These words have always been important, but today they seem to have a special need because so few people know how to recognize an idol. There are various forms of idolatry today, and most of them look nothing like the idolatry of 2000 years ago. Whatever we give more importance, more devotion, or more commitment to than is proper is either becoming, or has already become, an idol. As has been said before, we humans are wonderful "idol makers" (sad to say).

A proper understanding of mercy will not lead someone to moral compromise, rather it will lead them to greater faithfulness and a deeper commitment to the truths of God (since all the moral virtues, like mercy, cooperate with and assist one another; they never compete with each other!). In the Psalms (130:1-4) we read the following:
Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, LORD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared.
Notice that? Precisely because God has mercy, does it lead the psalmist to "fear" Him. It does not make him lax, but rather makes him want more so to be faithful. The psalmist does not think, because God is merciful that he can go on sinning (for that would be mercy without truth!); no, he responds with "fear" and recognizes the awesome grace that comes to us because of God's mercy. This is the right understanding of mercy. Anything short of this, is a wrong understanding of mercy.

Those who put too much emphasis on mercy have lifted up mercy beyond where it is supposed to be, because it is never supposed to be raised "above" truth, but rather to meet perfectly with it. In doing this we make mercy into something that will do more harm (since it is divorced from truth) than good. We can never pit one grace against another; that is always unhealthy. God has revealed to us the beauty of both truth and mercy, let them never be separated. Let us have truth and mercy; mercy and truth.