If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. Psalm 89:23-24
Parenting is not for cowards. It is not a clear and simple task for mere mortals. Certainly my dad prefaced every single paddling with this clarification: “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
I remember one time however, when he didn’t paddle me. Even though he had created one of those smoothly sanded paddles that was a bit shorter and much thicker than a canoe oar. Hard as it may seem to believe, I have always been an awful speller. Probably because I read so fast I don’t even notice the words. Or sentences. Just galloping through. My dad taught me to read fast when I was barely in school because slow reading had always been the bane of his life. He sat me on his lap and quickly ran a 3 x 5 card down the middle of a page of the book, and then drilled me with questions. It wasn’t fun, but I learned to gobble text. Sort of like learning to eat at Camp Hy-Lake, the boys’ camp, which is not good.
But Dad made a great editor. Which is pretty interesting, when one thinks about the thousands and thousands of missionary newsletters he has edited for His honor and glory. And how God took the bane of my dad’s life and utilized it for His kingdom. And my miserable spellingness has helped me scaffold the awkward task of spelling English into doable tasks for myriad frustrated middle schoolers. And at least they walk out of my class knowing how to spell “there, their, they’re” and “a lot is two words.” And in two days I fly out to run a Rocky Mountain regional spelling bee. The ironies of God. But I digress.
So fourth grade was a miserable year for me. I was dumpy in every sense of the word after gobbling Tennessee butter all summer at the boys camp and sporting a Mrs. Winnie Price old-lady haircut performed by a beautician whose husband had left her and she needed money and mom felt sorry for her. Mrs. LeCompte, the fourth, fifth and sixth grade teacher at our two-room schoolhouse did not appreciate my bad spelling and she did not like that I wrote the number “5” with one stroke and not two, and every math problem where I wrote a single stroke “5” she would mark WRONG with a big red “X.” And I never made it into the Pen Pal Club and was never allowed to use a pen in her class because my writing was so messy. And Mrs. Hahn, whose last name is my secret code for TurboTax, had loved me for three whole years of first, second and third grade. And she had let me sit on her lap because I was shy. And let me read Call of the Wild when the other kids were reading Dick and Jane. But Mrs. LeCompte didn’t like me and I couldn’t spell. So on one Friday in fourth grade, a student in my class raised her hand and shouted, “Mrs. LeCompte, Christie is cheating on her spelling test.” And I was. Badly. With a little list sort of hidden in my lift top desk, I was trying to peek. Boy, did I get in trouble. I had to make the phone call home. I had to stay after school. And then there was the ever-popular, “Wait until your father gets here.”
I paced the living room. I peered out the big front windows down to the bend in the road, squinting. Catching the familiar rumble of the Volkswagon bug with dread. When my dad clumped up the back steps, I felt that my rather miserable little life was over. I begged and begged not to be paddled. Really that is the only thing we ever got paddled for in the Coverdale house: lying, and I totally knew that cheating was lying Big Time. But my dad gave in to my pleadings and didn’t paddle me.
But that evening, as we all knelt down in the living room for our evening prayers, leaning on the green and gold Chinese brocade couches, my dad almost wept in his prayers. He was so very worried that he had chosen the coward’s way of out. That the best thing for me in the long run would have been justice, but he had taken the easy way. Because paddling would have hurt him more than it would have hurt me.
In the modern mind, justice and mercy are often thought of as two parameters, two outstretched hands, the balancing edges between which we live before God. Sometimes I overhear or say things like, “Err on the side of mercy,” or “he leans towards the justice side,” but I am reminded throughout this psalm that justice and mercy are not balancing traits, a positive plus a negative equals zero so to speak; they are equated: Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before Thy face, or in a modern translation (NCV): Your kingdom is built on what is right and fair. Love and truth are in all You do.
Justice and mercy are not lines in the sand that God falls inside of trying to wrap our language and mind around Him, justice and mercy are the same thing: God. God is love. Simply different stages in Who He Is, much as the seasons spring, summer, fall and winter are all part of Life.
I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. Psalm 89:1-2