Several weeks ago, I found myself with a free afternoon as most of my piano students had cancelled their lessons. This is not something that happens very often, and it wasn’t a gift of free time. There was a shooting at Canada’s War Memorial and children were stuck in locked down schools or with no bus service to get to my home studio. One young boy did come for his lesson that evening and asked for the door to be locked, just in case the bad guy with the gun was still around. It was a really sad day.
I spent that time working on this hymn. I give it to you today because it is Remembrance Day this week. In the Mennonite Church we recognize this Sunday as Peace Sunday. I think we all abhor violence. I think we all long for peace. Events like this make me wonder if it will ever be achieved. Events like this remind me that I am incredibly fortunate to live in a place where this single act is a rarity. There are many places in the world where this would be a common occurrence. The location of the shooting at our War Memorial reminds me of the many wars throughout history and those that rage now. So many complicated thoughts emerge; difficult emotions, reactions and prayers.
A friend of mine mentioned that this was a favourite and meaningful hymn. In thinking about war, violence and peace, I was struck by these words.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
We certainly all need mercy. To be recipients of mercy that is as wide as the sea is almost too great a gift to contemplate. Are we able to be that compassionate in return? We all have a role in shaping the world we live in. When we demand justice are we capable of doing it in kindness? I’m not sure I often think in those terms. I am also impressed by the idea that justice isn’t merely about liberty. We hear a lot about fighting for freedom and ensuring that all are free. Admirable sentiments, but justice is more than that. Justice is complicated when freedom for one means chains for another.
But we make God’s love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify its strictness
With a zeal God will not own.
As in many hymn texts, the writer of these words (Frederick Faber, 1814-1863) directs us to the immensity of God. It is our humanness that makes God small; that tries to claim definitions of justice, mercy – rules and regulations. The impact on our world, as a result, has been great. Many acts of violence and discrimination have been done in the name of a small, humanly constructed God. When we consider peace and justice, it is my hope that we do so from the perspective of the wideness of God’s mercy and love, not the limits of our own understanding. The mercy is for us all. Because we all need it.