by Father Mike Stubbs
The saying “might makes right” cynically maintains that the powerful get to determine morality — and the weak must live according to it. The same philosophy teaches that the victors write the history of the war in such a way as to make themselves look virtuous.
Hundreds of years before Christ, Thucydides expressed this idea in his “History of the Peloponnesian War.” Such a view easily leads to social Darwinism, in which survival of the fittest also means survival of the best — that is to say, best in the moral sense. It’s just what nature intended.
Sunday’s first reading —Wis 12:13, 16-19 — might lead us to believe that this approach also holds true for God. The author addresses God and writes: “For your might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all. . . . But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us.”
According to the Book of Wisdom, God’s almighty power frees God up to show mercy to us. God has no need to feel defensive. God has no need to fear any harm from anyone. Consequently, God can treat us with justice, and even mercy, if so desired. In other words, the Book of Wisdom would rephrase the saying, “might makes right” to read “might enables right.”
This calls to mind the theological question that asks: “Is justice simply whatever God desires? Or is justice something extrinsic to God, but something which, in God’s total goodness, has been endorsed by God? In other words, is justice a matter of God’s arbitrary will? Is God the ultimate benevolent dictator? Or, is God the best of all possible citizens, obeying the laws of the universe and enforcing them?”
Such an approach ignores our belief that God has created everything. All things, even justice, originate from God. At the same time, that justice does not proceed from a fickle and capricious whim of God, but from the depths of God’s being, which is love.
Both justice and mercy have issued forth from the wellspring of God’s compassion. The human mind tends to separate the two, but, in God, justice and mercy are inextricably bound together.
In that, God provides us with a model to imitate and a goal to which we aspire. As the reading tells us, in addressing God: “And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind.”