Is Mercy Unfair? Peter Kreeft Explains

51sn7mndFiL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_In just about a month the Year of Mercy will begin, and it begs the question: what is mercy?

Peter Kreeft in Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion offers a simple yet insightful explanation of mercy in his chapter on the Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” He writes:

For mercy goes beyond justice, but does not undercut it. If I forgive you the one hundred dollar debt you owe me, that means that I must use one hundred dollars more of my own money to pay my creditors. I cannot make you really one hundred dollars richer without making myself one hundred dollars poorer. If the debt is objectively real, it must be paid; and if it is my mercy that dismisses your debt, I must pay it (p. 113).

At first look mercy seems unfair, feels unfair: where is the justice in this? It makes us bristle at the proposition of further suffering on behalf of someone who has already made us suffer. Kreeft simply says that mercy at first glance “is a minus.”

The tension we feel, however, must be a sign that this isn’t the end of the story. Jesus in the Beatitudes declares that “mercy is a plus, that the merciful are blessed.” Kreeft explains that the merciful are blessed in four ways: by God in this life, by men in this life, by God in the next, and by men in the next.

In this life, we are blessed by God who, by design, made mercy a blessed way of life. He rewards those who show mercy with far greater grace than what they gave. He shows the merciful mercy. Also in this life, other people will tend to be merciful to those whom they view as merciful.

In the next life, our heavenly reward will be the “capstone” of the benefits that began on earth when we were merciful. Also in heaven, those to whom we showed mercy will be able to even better demonstrate their gratitude to us for our mercy to them by praying for us (114-116).

Now, mercy starts to sound pretty good. Kreeft concludes that “those who go beyond justice to mercy, get something beyond justice: mercy. And that is supremely just” (118).

This Year of Mercy the Church challenges us to look at how we are living a life of mercy. Peter Kreeft makes a compelling case for why we should take this harder path.

Copyright 2015 Meg Matenaer

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