Is fear at the root of our insistence that with God justice must somehow take precedence over mercy (or as Cardinal Kaspar puts it, that mercy is just a footnote to justice)? Are we afraid that if mercy prevails, then evil will go unpunished? Or that people will just do whatever bad thing they want, since God is merciful? Do we then use the notion of justice mainly to control undesirable behavior, as if the social fabric will unravel completely if we emphasize God’s mercy too much?
Cardinal Kaspar himself seems to acknowledge these concerns in his book, Mercy; The Essence of the Gospel:
“The failure of theological reflection concerning the message of mercy, which is central to the Bible, has allowed the concept often to be downgraded, degenerating into a “soft” spirituality or a vapid pastoral concern, lacking clear definition and forced somehow to suit each individual. Such a soft praxis may be understandable to a certain degree as a reaction against a ruthlessly rigid, legalistic praxis. But mercy becomes pseudomercy when it no longer has a trace of trembling before God, who is holy, and trembling before his judgment and justice. It becomes pseudomercy when “yes” is no longer a “yes”, and “no” is no longer a “no”; **when it does not exceed, but rather undercuts the demand for justice. ** The Gospel teaches the justification of the sinner, but not the sin. For this reason, we should love the sinner, but hate the sin.”