Thursday, January 28, 2010

Grace, Justice, and Mercy, Via Victor Hugo

In Hugo's Les Miserables, Bienvenu catches a calloused liberationist off guard with the thought that "perhaps mercy is but a higher form of justice." The holy Bishop of Digne caught me off guard, too. Ever since I read that line, I've wrestled with what I thought I knew about the higher economy. I intuitively sensed that Bienvenu was right, but I couldn't reconcile this with my understanding of the relationships between justice, mercy, and grace.

As a child, I was taught that:
  • Justice is getting the things you deserve. 
  • Mercy is not getting the bad things you deserve, and 
  • Grace is getting the good things you don't deserve.
While I still think these are reasonably sufficient definitions for a 6 year-old, my understanding was skewed by the hierarchy they occupied in my mind. To me, justice was the norm, and grace and mercy were exceptions given by a benevolent God who was too nice to let consequences mess up our lives.The idea that mercy could ever be higher than justice was to me, counter-intuitive.

I'm trying out a new paradigm:
  • What if grace is the standard, rather than justice? 
  • What if justice is merely the structures which maintain the status quo created by grace? 
  • What if mercy is that which prevents the status quo from destroying the original intent of grace's creations? 
This would therefore mean that grace is the motive, justice is a means, and mercy is a higher means, as it more closely resembles the motive. Remember as I have only just truly realized, that grace is not God's plan B response to sin's derailment of justice. Grace preceded sin, because creation itself was an act of grace: it's a good thing we didn't deserve. Grace created order out of chaos. The maintenance of order is called justice. Mercy returns order to a broken world in a way that justice sometimes cannot, for while justice is but a blind process, mercy flows from relationship, the highest of created orders.

If This was Victor Hugo's understanding of the higher economy, then his comments via Bienvenu make perfect sense. 

Thoughts? Anyone?


Jonathan Vowell said...

Justice and mercy equally "maintain order"? I like it. Reminds me of when Lewis said that Hell was God's "final mercy" to those who ultimately reject Him (The Problem of Pain).

北橋 said...
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