The adjective epieikēs (used 5x in the NT) and noun epieikeia (2x) mean “forbearing, lenient, conciliatory, gentle.” Some people insist on standing up for every last bit of their legal rights. But others who are epieikēs know that at times an action may be legally justified yet morally wrong. The forbearing person will then relax the law because of a compulsion higher and greater than law. God provides the example. Where would we be if God insisted on his rights and dealt with us only upon the rigid standards of law?
Something written decades ago applies today: “We live in a society where [people] insist on standing on their legal rights, where they will do only what they are compelled to do, and where they desire to make others do all that they can compel them to do. Again and again we have seen congregations torn by strife and reduced to tragic unhappiness because men and women, committees and courts stood on the letter of the law…. A new world would arise in society and in the Church if [people] ceased to base their actions on law and on legal rights and prayed to God to give them epieikeia.”
Or, we may remember Portia:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath…. it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown….
[M]ercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ’gainst the merchant there.