The Power to Punish
I’ve mentioned before that I’m an only child. So is my husband. Because of this, the behavior between siblings has always left us scratching our heads. For instance we have some friends who are brothers and they spend a lot of time together. Over the years they have hidden and taken belongings from one another, stuck each other with restaurant bills, and occasionally compete for the favor of their parents by trying to purchase the better birthday or Christmas gift. It’s all in good fun of course. However, to Ryan and I, as sibling-less bystanders, it can appear to be vindictive and downright mean at times.
So we find it especially curious to watch our own “kids” interact. I call them “kids” because they are our kids, although they are adults. Over the years there has always been this sort of back and forth bickering about who did what to whom first. Apparently this is what sibling rivalry is all about.
Honestly, I don’t think anyone could possibly remember who the very first antagonist was. After all the very first time someone did something selfish or mean to the other probably started when they were toddlers. They are all roughly around the same age and have gone through most of life together. Often one will argue the other took a sweatshirt which would result in another justifying why they wore the prior ones jeans, of course in retaliation. Or so and so tattled on so and so for something, and when the tattlers were caught doing such and such, they became the tattled on. When they are all together we often hear little bouts of playful bickering and realize this blame game could go on forever with none of them really being sure as to who actually started it, when it started, or what it’s about.
Luckily our kids are very close. Sibling rivalry for them is more of a game than true competition for attention or favor. They have told us at different times that one or the other was the “favorite”, although they can never fully agree on who that favorite was.
It reminded me of how on a grander scale every world event, every war, every ruler, every environmental disaster has had a measure of contribution to the state of the world as it is now. It’s certainly hard to retrace history and find one specific person that could be pinpointed for blame or acclaim, in the world today. Of course there are those whose actions are unforgettable, for example Adolf Hitler. However, even that can be looked at in terms of society today and how those events and the actions of the Nazi Party, contributed to the enlightenment of the world on racism and genocide. It is not easy to say something positive could come out of such an atrocity. However, there were survivors (a couple of whom I’ve met personally) whose stories bring incredible life lessons and inspiration.
All that to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about mercy and what that word means. I have always known that it meant to extend someone a sort of grace or forgiveness that they didn’t deserve. But it goes beyond that. The true definition of mercy according to Oxford Dictionary online reads: “Compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”
We have all had to forgive at one point or another. Often times forgiveness is the only course of action available. After all you can’t really throw someone in jail for hurting your feelings (usually). Of course you can hold a grudge, but we all know that doesn’t benefit anyone. More often than not the offenses we have to forgive are not easily punished and there’s often no clear-cut form of justice. Because most of the offenses that happen in life are little. A sarcastic remark, an eye roll, a shoulder shrug, a snotty attitude, and over time what started out as a bad day or a disagreement becomes a feud that would make the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s look neighborly.
How do we end the battle? How do we stop the ping pong of retaliation and offense?
That’s where mercy comes in. It isn’t easy, it takes humility. Extending mercy shows real maturity. That is the mark of a strong individual. To extend mercy in the midst of such conflict when surely there is punishment deserved is to deny justice. To forgive in such a way that you forgive intentional pain, you allow purposefully inflicted harm to go unpunished, no retaliation, no attempt at justice, just an extension of mercy; that is a true example of Christ. When we have the power to punish but we do not use it, we put an end to the banter, the bickering, and the battle.
Try mercy. It may be the end of a battle that you’ve been longing to finish.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7