Mercy for the city

Mercy is a core Christian impulse; it’s part of the heartbeat of the gospel.  I wondered last week how mercy might play out in Toronto’s mayoral misadventures.  And while mercy may feel like folly, it is not at all incompatible with wisdom.

That got me thinking about another angle into this Toronto train wreck, now coming from the pool of wisdom literature of Scripture.  There’s a line of biblical wisdom that explores the fool.  According to ancient wisdom, there are wise, foolish and evil people, with parts of each playing out in all of us.  However, some people make a career of one of these.

In the wisdom literature, there are a variety of Hebrew words for our translation “fool.”  It doesn’t refer to someone who lacks the grey matter but instead one who lacks the appropriate heart matter; it’s someone whose deficiency is in moral humility and refuses to yield to God or others.  Ship-of-FoolsAnother word for “fool” refers to someone who will not receive truth, who when the truth comes doesn’t adjust themselves according to it but instead tries to bend the truth.  This person remains resistant to the advice of wise counsellors.  Another word for “fool” is someone who shirks responsibility, who makes excuses or externalizes (blaming) and complains of the barriers in their way.  And they get angry.

Biblical scholar Derek Kidner writes of the fool: “the root of his trouble is spiritual, not mental.  He likes his folly, going back to it ‘like a dog that returns to his vomit’ … he has no reverence for truth, preferring comfortable illusions.”

Take note of a few verses from Proverbs about the fool and you begin to sense an immediate resonance with what is playing out in Toronto.  The fool:

    • “despises wisdom and discipline” (1:7)
    • “the way of the fool seems right to him” (12:15)
    • “a fool shows his annoyance at once” (12:16)
    • “the heart of the fool blurts out folly”
    • “the folly of fools is deception” (14:8)
    • “fools mock at making amends for sin” (14:9)
    • “a fool is hotheaded and reckless” (14:16)
    • “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (18:2)
    • “It is a man’s honor to avoid strife but every fool is quick to quarrel.” (20:3)
    • “He who trusts in himself is a fool.” (28:26)
    • “If a wise man goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.” (29:9)
    • “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (29:11)

A fool is a menace to the common good, fraying trust, trampling civility and sabotaging good will.  And sadly, it looks like Toronto has a biblically defined fool occupying the mayor’s chair, someone without the sense or good will for the common good and so holding the city hostage.

Without any political or legal recourse to remove him from office (which is not a betrayal of mercy but the one scenario where both mercy and justice seem to be fulfilled), all we are left to do is pray for mercy for our city.

And while we suffer under this ongoing circus, hold on to one more pithy Proverb, right now more a deep heart hope for everyone in Toronto – “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.”  (Proverbs 10:10)

May Toronto soon rejoice.

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  1. #1 by Dom on November 15, 2013 - 8:45 am

    Helpful. Thank you Phil.

  2. #2 by channing on November 15, 2013 - 9:48 am

    rob ford is unreal and yet so real. his story forces us to deal with the mess of reality. many of his detractors firmly believe that ousting him is an act of social good/justice. activism, as you know, takes many forms, some much more aggressive/conspicuous than waiting/praying. i can also think of a few instances in the bible where what seemed like very harsh action (what rob ford once termed “tough love”) was considered discipline and mercy. i’ve been struggling to figure out what would be God-pleasing behaviour in this whole mess. talking with rob ford’s supporters? (in my experience/observations, usually lots of heat, very little light.) protesting? (there’s one at nps at noon today.) humor? (has been effective with respect to other causes.) shaming? (again, it’s worked before.) financially supporting his critics? are our city councillors being merciful? (formally asking him to resign, putting up firewalls.)

  3. #3 by Dianne Mantyka on November 15, 2013 - 11:26 am

    My Prayers are with you. We were blessed to experience with you that Toronto is a wonderful city! Christ have Mercy.

    Blessings on you Phil,

    DiJ

  4. #4 by jennyvdm on November 15, 2013 - 11:54 am

    Phil, can you tell me something about the image in this post? And is Squinch on Facebook? I would love to share this, very ? Can’t find the word, ? Provacative ? Spin on folly.Thank you

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • #5 by phil on November 15, 2013 - 11:23 pm

      Jenny – posts from Squinch are usually linked to FB.

  5. #6 by Douglas C. Ward (@Soul_Safari) on November 15, 2013 - 1:23 pm

    Amen and amen. Was trying to put into words what was going on. Nuf said. Sad

  6. #7 by Curtis Korver on November 15, 2013 - 1:39 pm

    Phil,I liberally borrowed your Matthew 5:7 thoughts in a conversation recently. I felt pretty good about myself. Then I received a call from people who need help just until next week and the shelter is full and… you probably picked up this song on the first note. A few calls later, I learned that they and their addictions have burned many bridges and was advised to extend to them Greyhound therapy. Let ’em hit bottom.
    Is this a case where the category of mercy doesn’t apply or does mercy have a hard side?

    • #8 by phil on November 15, 2013 - 3:50 pm

      Mercy is tough and messy to extend, isn’t it? I don’t have any easy answers. But the one thing I’m most struck about it is that the call to be merciful might be more about our need to give it than another’s need to receive it.

      I don’t know but I bet my patience, love and good will runs far shorter than mercy’s endurance.

      I think there are places where mercy does have a hard side to it. I really do think ushering Rob ford out of the Mayor’s chair is at once merciful and just.

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