The Velvet Glove vs. the Iron Fist

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Among the options for this week’s readings is a passage from the Wisdom of Solomon that should be a watchword in these days when people seem to seek in their leaders an image of power rather than of wisdom and justice.

The chronicler writes to God that His “strength is the source of righteousness, and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.” And: “Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose. Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind….”

Wouldn’t it be nice to be governed “with great forbearance,” instead of with the bombast of a strongman, or the officiousness of a niggling bureaucrat, or the overweening vanity of a self-important legislator, or the brute force of an over-armed S.W.A.T team?

Even apart from formal government, in our schools and businesses and various organizations, we all run into petty tyrants and preening popinjays, eager to make everybody within even the smallest realm of authority aware that they are the top dog within that realm.

Of course there’s something to be said for a firm and steady hand on the tiller (please forgive my run of clichés); yet we must remember that it is possible to be firm and steady, and energetic and creative and inspirational, without being overbearing.

If even the Lord uses His authority not with a heavy hand but with “mildness,” then why should those in petty earthly authority “lord it over” other people who are under their sway?

Our God is a God of righteousness leavened by kindness, of strength so powerful that it need not be exercised — because the example of forbearance is morally more powerful than the exercise of brutish power.

Here’s an almost silly, but recent, example. The other day I was stopped by a cop in my own neighborhood. Rather than coming to a complete stop at a stop sign on a side street, with no other cars anywhere around, I had eased on the accelerator again (slowly) when I was almost imperceptibly still moving forward despite having slowed from 20 miles per hour to less than 5 mph. Former National Basketball Association announcer Hot Rod Hundley would have called my violation “no harm, no foul,” just like an accidental, light jostle on the basketball court that in no way materially affects the play.

The policeman was as polite as could be. He explained that there had been complaints of reckless driving on that street and he was assigned to get things under control. He gladly said I had not been speeding, not been driving unsafely, not ignored the stop sign — but just failed to obey the “full stop” rule.

After checking my license, he checked my driving record. No violations at all in the past five years (and no serious ones ever, by the way). And I was two blocks from home. So he came back and chatted pleasantly for another minute or so and then gave me the summons. It read: “Warning.” No court date. No fine. No penalty.

And I told him his forbearance made me more likely to really pay attention to the “full stop” rule than even a “ticket” would have done because I would have resented the ticket — but, instead, would want to honor his trust that I would pay more attention next time.

On a far more important level, Jesus’ admonition to the adulteress to “go and sin no more” had a far more profound effect on her soul, and thus on her eternal salvation, than if he had harshly excoriated her once the stoning danger was past.

Power unwielded is not lost; it still remains to be used if the forbearance fails. But once unleashed, power and force cannot be taken back, nor can their deleterious effects.

With great forbearance, God governs us, indeed, and we are blessed because that is the case. Let us all learn to follow that example of kindness and righteous mercy in our daily dealings with each other, whenever there is a chance that the velvet glove, better than the iron fist, might caress from the situation a good and redemptive result.

Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a degree in theology. His faith-themed satirical novel, Mad Jones: Heretic, is due for publication this summer by Liberty Island Media.