“Do Justice Love Mercy Walk Humbly.” I have seen these words (taken from Micah 6:8) as the mission statement for a church plant. It’s a great start: biblical, inspiring and very difficult. Here is the full verse: “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Singers, church planters and politicians have sounded out these words, because they ring true and flow smoothly from our lips. But like most prophetic words, they sound poetic until you reflect on how difficult it is to hold justice, mercy and humility in your heart at the same time. Micah’s passage has been used to rail against economic violence and to decry war in the streets, but what if these words are for us, and not for others? Here are four reflections:
Goodness comes with requirements: The passage is so beautiful we can easily miss the word “require.” The prophet reveals the stuff of God’s goodness, but knowing the ingredients is not enough. We must prepare the feast.
Justice is a difficult word: We embrace the idea and struggle with the application. And application is the point of this passage—we are called to do justice. For example, anyone can decry violence. But we are called to be peacemakers. Nearly everyone sees the justice of feeding the poor, but what if we steal from the farmer to do so? Before we dismiss this example as simplistic, consider how many calls for justice cost us nothing but demand so much of others.
Mercy threatens the work of justice: In their most worldly senses, justice is about responsibility and mercy is about getting off scot-free. If we have learned justice from the laws of men, mercy and kindness will appear undo the very foundation of the law. Who can teach us true justice, and connect us with eternal mercy? The prophets revealed that the Day of Judgment would be both great and terrifying, and they looked forward to the event. To love God’s justice is to yearn and tremble for his appearing, all the while knowing that (eventually) kindness triumphs over judgment. If mere men have taught us about justice—or mercy—we can be sure we must learn both afresh from God.
Anyone who can balance the demands of justice and mercy could be forgiven a hint of pride, but we are called to humility. The world has no place for humility. To the world’s way of thinking, humility is hardly the path to success. Perhaps because justice and mercy seem so at odds that humility is precisely what’s required of God’s people. Who has the wisdom to know when to tilt toward judgment and responsibility, or when to favor kindness and mercy over the demands of equity? Humility calls forth wisdom, and godly wisdom can silence the shouting of this age.
For some, justice means no mercy; for others, mercy means no justice. We are called to both, and only the humble will find the balance.