Now things are looking up! And while there is much to say on wrongful mercy, let us start with what is so critical about mercy at the particular stage we find ourselves at. We began with adequate appreciation of our lack (poverty and mourning). We then moved to meekness and hunger and thirst. In that latter stage we still find ourselves. The culmination is coming. Dare I even utter “blessed are the pure in heart”? But we are not there yet. Let us not get ahead of ourselves. What we have found, if we take Jesus of Nazareth’s beatitudes as a kind of ordered progression is that after appreciation of inadequacy and willful submission to the good our insides will change! Our hungers and thirsts will change. This desperation for righteousness is what “blessed are the merciful” answers to.
Without “blessed are the merciful” the individual who becomes desperate for righteousness is likely to starve to death! Let us forecast the monumental effort of an individual working tirelessly for righteousness and unwilling to be filled with anything less. Here is what he will find. He is not only that will. He is how ever many years of built up messiness that he has fed with his prior will and before that how he was fed by his environment in earlier years. Add to this that he is finite, that given that his sight is limited he can prepare himself for every onslaught, and he in his current state is easily distracted, easily knocked off course.
There are always minimally two issues with the human trying to make progress. They are linked, but it is worth making the distinction. There are issues of knowledge and understanding, and there are issues of desire and will. And they are linked. It is possible that some failures will be the result of mistaken appearance of the pursuit of the good. That failure can be a mistake of what is valued in the end or of the means whereby one moves closer to the end. But, either way a finite individual with cloudy soul, even with a born and deeper hunger and thirst for righteousness, will not see clearly what is good or how to go about achieving it.
Add to this that hidden in the soul are latent bad desires, bad instincts, bad tendencies to respond to this or that. Perhaps quitting smoking was easy until he was unemployed. Then…Perhaps he is on the straight and narrow until he gets lonely. And then…Perhaps he has developed patience and endurance to this degree not knowing that the outer limit is there or that it will be tested by the upcoming event.
This man, even this repentant man, knowing and appreciating his inadequancy, willing submission, growing in hunger and thirst for righteousness–he will be tested. And, in his finitude and limitedness alone I can predict failure. How does he who hungers and thirst for one thing (righteousness) handle getting its opposite (unrighteousness)? How doe he whose insides are being more and more needy for the one deal with an ever sensitive consciousness to the reality of the other? Oh, the pitfalls of a naive idealism, and the results of the despair which follows the failure to live up to the ideals. How ironic that the hunger and thirst for righteousness could produce the rejecting, the giving up, the living with the burden of guilt and shame, nay even self-loathing.
The answer is mercy. But here, while holding out this answer we must be careful to not for a moment tolerate unrighteousness wrongfully. Mercy is the act of NOT giving a man what he is due. It amounts to withholding rightful punishment. This is how mercy is different from grace. Grace amounts to giving a man a good that he does not deserve. Mercy amounts to withholding an evil deserved. Let us begin with the analysis of mercy with self before moving out to the social realm.
First, mercy can only be rightfully extended to he who is repentant and aiming at what is good. This cannot be overemphasized. Mercy is ONLY extended to he who is committed to doing better. This is why the extension of mercy in the legal realm is so fraught with trouble. It is rarely verifiable what a man’s intentions are. But he who relents in due punishment from the unrepentant becomes a part of the evil produced by the unrepentant. He takes part. And woe to him.
Mercy is ONLY extended to the truly repentant. What mercy does is allow a second chance, a try again. But that try is not worthwhile if it is merely an allowance of continued evil. In that case it works only to continue evil. An example: let us say a man seeks to tame is unhealthy consumption of sugar of sex (porn). He notes deep in his character a hungry animal that is fat off of the consumption (with sugar it is normally obvious, with porn the fat is normally hidden). If he is truly repentant he must submit to no sugar and no porn, and expect the starving monster in him to rive and rave and whisper gentle “come as you are” to his ear. And he must expect to feel not the new man being born but the raging monster that he has set his allegiance with. What would such a man do? Anything to avoid sugar and sex. He ought to organize his external reality as suitably as possible to make easy the avoidance of consumption. Assume failure. He finds himself alone and gobbles either in a moment of weakness.
What does mercy in this moment mean? It means first the analysis and measurement of how real the repentance was. Next, if he finds himself really committed and not deluding himself, and he will be the only one who knows his own self-delusive discourse, he must check what made the lapse more probable and what can be done to minimize it. A man who acts differently in private than he does in public (and such is common for the SOCIAL animal) must prepare himself for alone time and guard against failure. Mercy looks like moving forward with clarity of thought about making progress and NOT wasting time in disappointment and self-loathing. All self-loathing will do is punish the little new man who is striving with all his might against the wild beasts that he must rise against.
What does mercy in this moment not mean? It does not mean self-discourse that explains away the failure, that allows the persistence in the failed state, that makes further failure easier, that invites feeling good for no good reason except the desire for good feeling. This is not mercy. It is at bottom the support and promotion of evil. And he who promotes evil and he who shows mercy cannot be the same men.
Mercy is most important for he who has come to hunger and thirst for righteousness. The more he hungers and thirsts the higher his eyes are set on the ideal. The higher his eyes are set on the ideal the more likely and clear his inadequacy. This man needs mercy, not to lessen the ideal and not to pacify or stall progress, but to make possible the living in the in-between, the on the way but not there yet. A man must be able to live with himself if he is to harness the strengths that are in him and make them more. His becoming better is first dependent on his wanting better. Second, his becoming better is dependent on his ability to be dissatisfied and keep at it.
Blessed are the merciful.
He who realizes how to treat himself this way will inevitably treat others this way as well. And his willingness to give another chance will increase the probability of the good around him. Let it be emphasized that he who is merciful MUST judge well the pursuit of the good in the one showed mercy. He who is shown mercy must be repentant and adequately be aware of his inadequacy. This man is worth showing mercy to. It is not accident that he who is on this path will produce the result of peace which is coming. There will be peace in his soul as he starves out evil and patiently supports good, and there will be peace in social relations by the same mercy.