25 Jul 2016

Do you value justice higher than mercy?

Religious 13 Comments

I took the Briggs-Meyer test (due to peer pressure). (I am not telling you my score because that’s what the narcissists do.)

The question in the subject is one that struck me as very interesting. (I think they should’ve said “more highly” than “higher”?)

I thought for a bit and then decided that no, I don’t value it more. That is not say that I think it’s okay to compromise on justice. But they are certainly different values–justice and mercy–and the question asked is one more important.

As a Christian, I now answer that no, but I bet I would’ve said yes back when I was an atheist. And, now as a Christian and being aware of this difference, I am going to say I was too unmerciful back then. It’s not that I am now in favor of injustice. No, the reason I changed is that I elevated the importance of mercy since becoming a Christian.

As always, Jesus provides the role model. His actions as portrayed in the gospel accounts were a brilliant display of superhuman justice and superhuman mercy. All of the characters in the gospel accounts ring true, except His: Jesus is an unbelievable character, not because of multiplying loaves and fishes, but because, “No man could have that depth of moral strength and compassion.”

13 Responses to “Do you value justice higher than mercy?”

  1. Darien says:

    I’m always a bit leery of the “justice above all” mindset. As you say, this is not because I don’t value justice or I value injustice or anything — the issue is that justice alone is insufficient. There is a reason that justice was only one among many in classical sets of virtues, after all.

    My view on justice is that it’s like fire. It’s very important — positively vital, in fact — but it needs to be tempered by other virtues, because left untended it can become dangerous.

  2. Andrew Keen says:

    Wow, that Myers-Briggs thing is fascinating. I can’t believe how well the Wikipedia page for my personality type describes me.

    • Flashman says:

      Would be interested in study of M-B personality types co-relation to knowledge acquisition methods and force v. voluntarism political preferences. How much of being a statist or ancap (or in between on the continuum) is a function of personality type?

  3. Harold says:

    From an economists perspective, could we view “justice” as the market clearing “price” of mercy? That is, justice is defined as that level of mercy that gives us a Pareto optimum type outcome. More or less mercy than the just outcome would result in more harm to more people.

    If we view it this way, it is a bit like saying do you value price higher than money (or more highly). In this case, we see that money is desirable, whereas price is an abstract. As an economist, I think Bob values the concept of price extremely highly, but offer him a price or some cash, he might take the cash as long as it did not put the concept “price” into room 101.

  4. RPLong says:

    My question is, if a system of justice violates the principle of mercy, then in what sense can we call it justice? Sounds more like cold, impartial rule enforcement to me. Justice by definition assumes the enforcement of rules in a fair and balanced way, i.e. informed by mercy and many other things.

    That question has always bothered me.

    • Tel says:

      Would you prefer warm, biased, rule non-enforcement?

      Given that the rules are not going to be enforced, seems like an elaborate waste of time to have either rules or justice at all… easier to shrug and say, “Do what you like” or in other words you can have exactly those property rights you have the ability to personally defend.

      • RPLong says:

        I don’t know what you’re talking about. Rules won’t be enforced? Property rights? I thought we were talking about justice vs. mercy. These are personal values that inform our thoughts about the public sphere; they are not public values except insofar as individuals comprise the public.

  5. Tel says:

    Suppose two property owners have a dispute over which one has infringed on the other, then what is the meaning of mercy in this situation? Does mercy imply leaning in favor of property owner A, or leaning in favor of property owner B?

    The reason a judgement is required is because the two property owners cannot settle the dispute between themselves… if not resolved they might be tempted to escalate to violence. The best judgement is one that is consistent with community standards (i.e. tradition, or precedent) abd which is as even-handed as possible under the circumstances. Anything else would be bias I believe.

  6. Harold says:

    Expanding on these themes, justice can never be wrong, by definition (I think). Mercy could be excessive, and thus wrong.

    For instance, Bob mentions cases where Jesus is merciful, but presumably in each case he was also just. Jesus demonstrated mercy in order to be just. So each example demonstrates justice as much as mercy.

    Another way to put it is that mercy is an element of justice, but justice is not an element of mercy.

    This does not make valuing mercy more highly than justice wrong, but it does offer a rationale for the opposite response.

    What is just is not always so easy to identify and your view of justice is defined in part by your view on mercy. So there is a rationale for the other answer.

  7. Edgardo says:

    Bob, so will an all merciful God leave hell empty? Or will He be just instead and give everyone their do?

  8. AcePL says:


    You got it all wrong. Not surprising – you Heretics do not get fully the concept of justice and mercy ;-).
    Latter is impossible without the former. Because God is just, he is merciful. Without justice, mercy is indulgence (or pampering or any other synonym).

    I can’t even fathom existence where mercy is more important because – let’s not kid ourselves – had it been the case we would not need Jesus Christ. He came to us in an act of mercy, yes (of course that comes after love), but made necessary out of justice.

    And, last but not least, justice means facing the consequences of the choices made. If criminal – or sinner – cannot face justice and penalty, how he can even begin to be sorry for his deeds? And how, without that, he can be shown mercy?

  9. Sealander says:

    Bob, can I recommend a book I think you will enjoy? “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. I think it’s enough to make any atheist elevate mercy in the way you feel Christianity has for you.

  10. Beth says:

    I know altogether too much about Myers Briggs Type Indicator and I have a habit of trying to type people that I follow online. I would have typed you as an INFJ, based on your blog posts, podcast appearances, et cetera. Interestingly, your thought process about that question was very similar to mine and I am an INFJ, so perhaps my assessment was correct. Enjoy exploring the typology; it’s a very interesting rabbit hole.

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