(Bob Bennett, "Small Graces," from the album Small Graces)
Justice and mercy, law and grace. Both are intertwined in scripture. When God revealed Himself to Moses, as recounted in Exodus 36:6-7, he spoke of both, describing Himself as "a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin," and going on to speak of justice. As Stephen Smallman notes, his placement of grace before justice suggests that God wants us first to focus on grace.
There are a hundred judgments I see every day. Murder, poverty, divorce, hateful talk, coarseness in manner and language, selfish greed, natural calamity --- a panoply of judgments borne of sin --- abound and threaten sometimes to monopolize my attention. We reap what we sow, we suffer the sins of others, we suffer even the brokenness of Creation. Difficult providences are all around. All of this is, in some general way, temporal justice for a fallen world.
And yet God is saying, "look for grace, first." Like William Cowper's hymn says, "Behind a frowning providence/ He hides a smiling face." Or like the writer of Lamentations says, in the midst of an oracle of woe: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;/ his mercies never come to an end;/ they are new every morning;/ great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23).
The sun shines, glistening on the back of still-green magnolia leaves. The cardinals still visit the feeder in my backyard, the male's red color brilliant against a blue sky. My wife found her lost earring, and the maids who don't speak much English are giggling about something in the other room. I'm listening to a song by Bob Bennett, who I haven't seen for four or five years, and listening to him just now I smile remembering the first time we met my then one-year old son pulled his beard. He's singing "There's a hand of kindness/ Holding me, holding me/ There's a hand of kindness/ holding onto me," and hearing him now is like opening up a door to a long unused room in my memory, rich and deeply peopled.
Grace first, today.
[Do yourself a favor. Listen to Bob Bennett's "Hand of Kindness here:
[The "40 Days On the Edge" posts are my ruminations in light of Stephen Smallman's devotional entitled "Forty Days On the Mountain," read in conjunction with Harvard Landscape History Professor John Stilgore's "Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places." Both books may be ordered by clicking on them where they are listed in the sidebar under "Current Reading."]