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Yesterday, I drew a distinction between the way of justice and the way of mercy, between the state punishing sin (Rom. 13.4) and the church reforming sinners (2 Cor. 5.18–19). Each way accomplishes God’s purposes, although for the Christian, the way of mercy must take precedence at the present time because Christ came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5.32).
Counterexamples spring quickly to mind: If a woman is attacked by a rapist, should she let him have his way with her? If you rear-end a car and its owner sues you for the cost of repairs, should you give him twice as much as he asks? If the government drafts your oldest son into the Army, should you send your youngest son along with him? If a stranger asks for a $50,000 loan, should you mortgage your house to provide him the money?
If you, like me, answered each question with a resounding “No!” then you understand the dilemmas inherent in the way of mercy. Practicing mercy—giving people better than what they deserve, especially when they deserve worse—is an unnatural act. And we don’t like to act unnaturally.
Which is why I try to reflect often on the case of Madge Rodda and James Bridle. Madge is 4’11”, a grandmother, and a church organist. James is the man who attacked her one Sunday in a Denny’s restroom and slit her throat.
Summoned to the hospital after the attack, Madge’s daughter Rosalee says, “With the damage to her throat, she could barely speak. Yet she was speaking. So I leaned over her bloodied body, putting my ear next to her lips. She said something which both surprised and inspired me: ‘That poor man. That poor man. We must find a way of getting him a Bible.’ She was referring to her assailant!”
When she recovered, Madge made contact with James, gave him a Bible, and led him to Christ. A reporter for the Los Angeles Times asked her how she found the strength to do all this: “It’s my nature to hold a grudge,” she said. “I can remember things from years and years ago that everyone else has probably forgotten. This wasn’t natural, it was supernatural.”
So, should we resist those who harm us? Yes, the way of justice demands it, and it comes naturally to us. But resistance is not our only option. Beyond justice lies mercy and beyond natural ability lies the supernatural power of God.