WFT- lenient

16 July 2011

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day for July 14th was lenient.

1: exerting a soothing or easing influence : relieving pain or stress

2: of mild and tolerant disposition; especially : indulgent

M-W provided this information regarding the word's origins:

"Lenient" is a word with a soothing history. It derives from the Latin verb "lenire," meaning "to soothe" or "to soften" (itself from "lenis," meaning "soft or mild"). The first, now archaic, sense of "lenient" referred to something soothing that relieved pain and stress. That meaning was shared by "lenitive," an earlier derivative of "lenire" that was commonly used with "electuary" ("lenitive electuary" being a medicated paste prepared with honey or another sweet and used by veterinarians to alleviate pain in the mouth). Linguists also borrowed "lenis" to describe speech sounds that are softened — for instance, the "t" sound in "gutter" is lenis. By way of comparison, the "t" sound in "toe" is fortis.

It seems that matters of Law and related words have been a common topic in the blog over the past few months.  Extenuate was a previous Word For Thought and another recent blog post focused on G-d's instruction "Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue".  Let's continue that litigious theme...

The Law

The Law of Moses (the Torah) is, by itself, fairly rigid:

- Do not take the name of the LORD in vain. (Exodus 20:7) - Keep the Sabbath holy. (Exodus 20:8) - Do not murder.  (Exodus 20:13) - Do not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14) - Do not steal. (Exodus 20:15)

There is very little leeway in the standard of right and wrong in G-d's eyes.

What about the penalties for violating G-d's laws?

- He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:12) - He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:15) - He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:16) - He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)

Granted, not every law mandated the death penalty but these examples show that there is no opportunity to be lenient within the boundaries of the Law itself.  There are no "... shall surely be put to death except in situations where..." clauses.  Paul declares that "the Law brings about wrath" (Romans 4:15).  I would clarify that violation of the Law brings about wrath.

The Messiah

Many today believe that Messiah came to show us leniency and to get rid of that mean and rigid Law.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Instead of abolishing or "getting rid of" the Law, Messiah obeyed it completely.  He taught His disciples to follow the Law and told them to teach others "to observe all that I commanded you". (Matthew 28:19-20)  He did not show us leniency regarding our obedience of His Law.  If anything He defined a more strict interpretation of the Law.  For example:

[E]veryone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:28)

I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.  (Matthew 5:22)

Yikes!  Where is the lenient Messiah we've been told about?

Let me be frank: that "lenient Messiah" is a fiction.  He doesn't exist.

This is not because Messiah is unkind, harsh, or angry.

Instead, G-d desires for sin to be utterly sinful (Romans 7:13) and so He gave the commandments and then provided a strict interpretation of them.


Messiah is glorified in His work of redeeming sinners.  If sinners are just a teensy, tiny bit sinful then His work is teensy and tiny as well.  But if they are enormously, absolutely, and utterly sinful then His work is enormous as well.  So enormous that only He could accomplish it.

Although He was not lenient, G-d was entirely merciful towards us by not pouring out upon us the condemnation we deserve as a result of our sin.

What shall we say then?

Now that Messiah has saved us from the penalty of our absolutely sinful sin are we free to go on sinning?

Paul asks and answers this question in his letter to the believers in Rome:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  (Romans 6:1-7)

Having G-d's promises through the work of His Messiah, "let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1)


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