Picture the recent massive explosion at the port in Beirut, Lebanon. Nearly 3000 tons of stored ammonium nitrate fertilizer were triggered by a fire. Beirut was devastated. Many were killed, thousands injured. The Prime Minister of Lebanon has vowed that those responsible will pay. How do disciples of Jesus think about justice and mercy and forgiveness here? It depends how we see things.
How do we see?
Watching the footage of the explosion and the devastation – what’s not to see? Surely the failure is obvious. A massive toll has been paid by a city and a nation. The punishment, surely, needs to fit the crime! This seems way beyond forgiveness or mercy. Justice is needed. The man responsible must pay.
But are we really seeing things clearly?
To check their sight, disciples of Jesus ask: ‘What kind of thinking will glorify God here?’. Relying on our instincts toward this man is not enough. How does God want me to see him? The Bible calls us to ‘Follow God’s example…’ (Ephesians 5:1)
Seeing that all have sinned
So how does God see this man in Beirut? The Bible says in well-known words:
‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23)
God thinks that this person is a sinner. But he also thinks that every other person in the world is also a sinner too!
The man responsible for the explosion and I are in the same camp! I might not have been in charge of a huge cache of ammonium nitrate in Beirut, so I am also a sinner. We’re both equally fallen and prone to mistakes and soaked in sin. This man’s fallenness resulted somehow in a devastating explosion. Thankfully, I have less opportunity for that. I am not in charge of explosives. Yet my fallenness and sin also comes out in destructive ways. We are both equally guilty before the justice of God.
And so, slowly, I start to see this man with more compassion than I did to begin.
Is there any more to seeing clearly here?
Seeing that Christ died for sinners
The Bible says in another place:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
God loves this man in Beirut. God loves this man so much that he sent Christ to die for him. He is a sinner like me. And Christ gave up his life so that he could be fully forgiven if he will trust God. He can be forgiven by God in exactly the same way I am forgiven by God.
Anyone who trusts Christ like this is called a ‘disciple’. We saw above that disciples are to follow God’s example. Here is the complete sentence in Ephesians 3:1-2:
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
The person who sees clearly therefore also sees that God has loved this man, and God wants me to love him as well.
But what about the log?
God has more to say to us. Jesus says to all his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:
‘You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’ (Matthew 7:5)
He says I will not see the ‘speck’ in this Beirut man’s eye until I have removed the ‘plank’ from my own eye.
Now surely Jesus has got it wrong here! That horrifying explosion resulting from his irresponsibility was surely a giant ‘plank’ if anything was!! Why does Jesus say I have the plank, and the man in Beirut only has a speck? Can’t Jesus ‘see’!?
Of course, it is Jesus Christ who ‘sees’, not me!
I have the plank because the thing I am not ‘seeing’ here is my own huge debt before the living God. And I can only see one small snapshot of this man’s debt – a specks’ worth (yes, even in this explosion!).
I cannot see clearly until I see myself properly in this situation. I will only be a hypocrite when I judge him before I see the hard truth about myself.
Eyes of mercy
And if I see myself clearly like this, I will be humble as I approach the man in Beirut about his failure. I will be compassionate since I am also weak and have great sin.
And I will be more ready to forgive. For I have been forgiven a vast unpayable debt by God through Christ (see the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35).
In other words, seeing clearly will lead me to have eyes of mercy as I approach the man in Beirut. There will need to be consequences for his wrong, of course. This is the justice dimension. But my heart will be with him and full of forgiveness. I seek mercy for him because I have received great mercy myself.
Seeing the world God’s way
The word of God teaches me to see the world differently. Only soaking myself in God’s word and discovering the beautiful example of the Lord Jesus will help me see this way. PeaceWise training helps us to do just that.
The first two Biblical principles for conflict we learn through PeaceWise are: (1) Glorify God; and (2) Get the log out of my own eye. It is only when I address each of these carefully will I see clearly to move to the third principle: (3) Gently restore others. I will be gentle with other sinners because the Lord has been very gentle with me, a great sinner. The fourth principle is (4): Go and be reconciled – we learn to take steps to restore our relationship with the other, and to work through the issues between us.
And so we move through the transition from God – Me – You – Us. As we learn to be people who breathe grace and peace into our own relationships and the relationships in the organisations and communities we belong to. And we become people who learn to handle conflict better in our own life and to help others too. We become peacemakers.
Take advantage of upcoming training with PeaceWise. Go to the PeaceWise website at peacewise.org.au/training-events/ and see if you can get involved in God’s life-changing perspective on the world.
This article is by David Coy. David is married to Noreen, and they have four married daughters and four grandchildren. He trained and has worked as an Anglican minister. David connected with PeaceWise training in 2011 and is now working in biblical peacemaking through Turning Point Ministry Services.