When Justice Demands Mercy
Christian love demands that we wish and pray for the eternal salvation of every human soul, however improbable. That includes the souls of men like Kermit Gosnell, Timothy McVeigh, Osama bin Laden, and the Nazis justly hanged at Nuremburg. This wholesome wish has nothing to do with whether or not we favor their deaths.
— John Zmirak, “When Justice Demands the Hangman” (First Things)
I just love this quote. It has untold depths of hatred within it — layer after layer of worldly wisdom that cover a core of human folly. Let me dissect it:
. . . that we wish and pray
What is the difference between a wish and a prayer? A wish is a half-hearted prayer, backed up not by substance and action, but by sentiment. We need not work toward a wish. We need not let it inform our lives. But a prayer? A prayer graces us with the divine power to vanquish evil. Prayer leads to action.
. . . that we wish and pray for the eternal salvation of every human soul, however improbable . . . This wholesome wish has nothing to do with whether or not we favor their deaths.
John, through the conflation of wishes with prayer, has disassociated grace from mission. It’s an old story — the division between love in dreams and love in action. It is so easy to love in our imaginations. It is so hard to love in reality, where love exacts a cost that we aren’t always prepared to pay.
Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.
One does not love with wishes. One loves with a prayer-infused life of grace, a life that means doing good to the very people who do evil. The great revelation of Christ is that such love is the basis of any lasting justice. Only merciful love can restore a shattered creation. Anything less is merely an empty wish.