Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

A member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

2688 North Park Drive
Lafayette, CO 80026
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July 24 – Justice, Mercy, And Our Hearts

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away His anger from him.” Proverbs 24:17,18

Devotional Thought For The Day

The hardness of our human hearts is a dreadful and treacherous thing. Things so easily get mixed up and perverted, so that good intentions become corrupted and evil actions are justified for the “cause” of good.  Processing this proverb enables us to see this blind darkness in our own hearts.  First, how can we not be glad when our enemy falls?  We have built a case against him in our hearts and minds and his fall is his just deserts – and we relish the personal satisfaction of seeing his threats disappear, and his arrogant swagger destroyed. So when we read the latter part of the proverb, we think that the warning has to do with the removal of our pleasure in the fall of the wicked, and that God would then revoke the justice due our enemy.  So our motivation becomes: “Okay, I won’t rejoice in the fall of my enemy so that I can be sure to continue seeing God’s wrath on him – which gives me pleasure.”  The other side of this logic would be this:  “If I want to be truly merciful toward my enemy, then I will continue to be joyful in his demise, and although this displeases God, this will occasion God’s mercy coming upon him, and end up being good.” All of this misses the whole point, and is perverse logic.

One commentator surmised the logic of this passage this way:  “Thou canst not do a greater kindness to thy enemy, when he has fallen, than to rejoice in it; for then, to cross thee and vex thee, God will turn his wrath from him; for, as the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God, so the righteousness of God was never intended to gratify the wrath of man, and humor his foolish passions; rather than seem to do that He will adjourn the execution of His wrath: nay, it is implied that when He turns His wrath from him He will turn it against thee and the cup of trembling shall be put into thy hand.”  This is great wisdom, but it also misses the point. This appears to make God both capricious and unjust, that He will suspend just judgment upon a wretched evil-doer because of some evil in our heart, and will rather turn the judgment against us.  But surely God’s justice and His actions pivot upon and are determined by far more objective and important considerations than these.

The point is mercy – and how it pleases God when our hearts are fastened upon compassion and mercy, even when considering our enemies and those who perpetrate great harm, violence, and destruction upon us. First, we must consider our own sin and guilt, remembering what our own “just deserts” truly are. Look at the cross and see what we have earned and deserved from God in what Christ suffered for us.  Second, consider that God loves all people, that Christ suffered and died for all, and that “God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Even when our children do evil and must receive discipline, or even punishment, we pray for their repentance and restoration. Do we think that God thinks differently about His children, or loves them less?  Therefore when His justice and heavy hand of discipline is upon anyone, even our enemies, we must consider how painful this is to God, and contrary to what His heart of love truly desires for them, and we should enter into this compassion and sorrow of God on behalf of His child.

The concern is with the condition of our hearts – that they not be filled with arrogant and hypocritical self-righteousness, with anger and revenge and hatred toward others, who are also dearly loved by God.  How can such a heart be like God’s?  Yet the call to turn away from what comes so naturally to us – joy and satisfaction when wretched and beastly enemies come under God’s judgment and fall, seems an impossibly difficult request and expectation from God.  So we are able to see the true darkness within us.  The challenge is to have a proper balance, a proper regard for justice and good, along with a deep and heartfelt desire for mercy and compassion.  To understand the difficulty of this is to look at the complexity of God’s heart and the magnitude of His task in ordering the affairs of mankind for the greatest possible good.  That this is impossible for us to master should come as no surprise – and should negate any impulse to judge God’s actions.

As tempting as it is, rejoicing in the demise of our enemies does not reflect a godly heart and mind, but rather the perversion of hypocrisy, hard-heartedness, and even hatred. Does this warrant and call for its own justice?  Instead, may we all pray “Lord, have mercy.”  And may we all consider the importance of having merciful hearts – even as we sorrowfully acknowledge the need for justice.

Prayer For The Day

Dear Lord Jesus, You prayed for mercy for those who crucified You, and granted salvation to the thief crucified next to You. Your servant Stephan also prayed for mercy upon those who murdered him. Help us to have merciful hearts even toward our enemies. Grant us wisdom to avoid the great evils of hypocrisy and hatred. Amen.