Is Forgiveness More Important Than Justice When You’ve Been Wronged?

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In John 17, Jesus expressed this desire for his followers: “I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. … I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (vv. 20–23).

But as we consider unity and oneness, we cannot avoid the reality of evil and injustice in our world. We may think about this from an individualistic perspective, like when our spouse cheats on us or our employer demotes us or our friends turn their backs on us. But we also may think about it from a collective standpoint, such as the perspectives of indigenous people, African Americans, Japanese Americans, refugees, and so many others. In the United States, we remember those who have suffered great offenses in this country but have not been extended a full apology or an offer of reconciliation. In a global context, we remember survivors of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, and we remember the stories of Syrian refugees, and so many others.

When a mother’s child is murdered and the killers go free, what then? What is the role of justice in these situations? And what is the responsibility of people of faith? Is forgiveness more important than justice?

Two chairs

One day I asked these questions to a group of my friends, and one of them gently pointed me to a website where I could register for a weekend retreat called “The Gift of Reconciliation.” I signed up, and a few weeks later I packed my suitcase and headed to the retreat, which was led by Father Mauritius Wilde.

At one point during the weekend retreat, Fr. Mauritius set two chairs at the front of the room. He invited us to consider one chair to be the seat of justice and the other the seat of mercy. Both seats, Fr. Mauritius told us, belong to God, and he is a God of both justice and mercy. However, we often perceive him as sitting only on the seat of judgment, high above us and looking down his nose in our direction, seeking to catch us in an act of sinfulness. So we think the judgment seat is where we belong too.

When we face a situation that makes us estranged from another person, Fr. Mauritius offered that we might consider the incident an opportunity to hear and embrace God’s invitation to us to move from the seat of judgment to the seat of mercy when viewing the other person. And then Fr. Mauritius did just that. He looked out at the group of 20 or so of us gathered in that room with the light shining in the windows and the two chairs at the front and said, “Who would like to try it?”

An older woman softly said, “I’ll give it a try.” And Fr. Mauritius stepped forward to welcome her to the front of the room.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Deidra Riggs