In difficult and frightening times, it is often helpful to return to first principles. How are we to live? How shall we act toward our neighbors—those who are next door, and those who, in a world of instant communication, are thousands of miles away?
Few have answered these questions more compellingly than the prophet Micah. We are required, he wrote, to do justice; to love mercy; and to walk humbly with our god.
This simple teaching grows more complex and rewarding as we reflect on it. We must do justice, but justice without mercy can become mere vengeance. We must love mercy, but mercy without justice cannot heal the world. And we must be humble. We must guard against the arrogance that can undercut both our justice and our mercy and lead us toward disaster.
Of the prophet’s three virtues, humility may be the most important today. Arrogance—the sense that we could control events without limitations—helped tempt the United States into Iraq and Afghanistan. The attempt to eliminate financial risk with accounting tricks helped bring about our economic crisis. We assumed that the earth was there for our convenience, when in fact we were destroying it. We did not practice humility, and that has cost us.
This year, let us resolve to do justice; to temper justice with mercy; and to walk humbly with our neighbors and on the earth.