It happened a long time ago in a town far away.
The family — a man, his wife, and their daughter lived in a little house perched high on a hill.
It was December, and the sun and night’s snowfall had fused the morning into clear, crisp, winter magic.
Just after breakfast the little girl came downstairs wearing merely tights and a t-shirt, and said she was going outside.
The mother said, “Oh, honey, it’s awfully cold outside. You had better put on some warm clothes!”
With a flip of her head, the daughter impudently asked, “Do I have to?”
Was it time for mercy, or justice?
The problem had been getting worse for some time.
The father could have ignored it and left the refinement of the child to the mother.
He could have punished the girl and sent her back to her room, demanding more clothing and more respect.
He could have wistfully ignored the problem and let moment pass, reserving the error for another day.
Justice alone creates an atmosphere where tenderness is scarce. And mercy without structure leaves a child groundless and weak. Served together, kindness and guidelines can produce in a child’s character both warmth and stability — qualities badly needed in our goulash world. Or should we be guessing extremists, simply taking turns between the two — this time justice, next time mercy?
Without further consideration, the father said, “Let’s go for a walk, to see what we can see.” They went into the cold together — she dressed as she was and he dressed not much better.
As they walked, he kept checking on her. “Honey, are you OK?” No answer.
“Honey, are you OK?” Nothing but a grunt.
Finally, as she moved closer and closer to his warmth, he asked again, “Honey, are you OK?”
“No, daddy, I’m very cold.”
What happened next was seen out the window by someone living nearby.
The father did not berate the child with an “I told you so.” Nor did he let her know by any rough action that he had wisely been right.
Yet he prevented her dangerously doing what she wished. Permissiveness isn’t mercy! He didn’t even build a bonfire and threaten to throw her in, (as we sometimes accuse God of doing).
He simply took off his shirt, wrapped her in it, and carried her up the driveway toward home. And she learned — consequence, boundaries, and love.
Good dad? I’d say so. But would a worthy sovereign being operate any less kindly, any less appropriately, or be any less willing to experience the same difficulties we do?
In any chef’s kitchen, a final scan of ingredients occurs just before pouring out the concoction for baking. If we looked up, we might see a master chef operating the same way.
Perhaps He would sample the mixture, check the recipe, and finish it off by adding an extra pinch of mercy — for me.
Rita Corbett is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Advisor.