Choice and mercy

Babette's Feast

The General’s speech from Babette’s Feast:

“Mercy and truth are met together.
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

Man, in his weakness and shortsightness, believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he must take. We know that fear.

But no. Our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when our eyes are opened. And we come to realise at last that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence, and receive it with gratitude.

Mercy imposes no conditions.

And, see! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us, and everything we renounced has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we threw away.

For mercy and truth are met together; and righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

We live in a society that is outwardly very different from that of 19th century Danish Pietism, but in one respect we are the same: we believe that what defines us are the choices we make. The prospect of making fundamental choices can fill us with fear, even paralyse us; the memory of choices made or not made can eat us up from within.

What the General tells us is this: the cure for choice is not constraint, whether the external constraint of pious convention or the inward constraint of the stoical acceptance of “real life” – no, the cure for choice is mercy.

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