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II Timothy 2:15

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Justice With Mercy

I’ve been learning a lot from the Lord lately, and thoughts keep going through my head. Thinking today about those few in positions of authority who have been accused of or convicted of crimes or entirely uncivil behavior. Whether it’s an officer using unneeded force, or an autocrat invading a sovereign nation these acts are especially evil because they are betraying a trust. When powerful people are caught harming those they have sworn to serve it’s easy to applaud vengeance. It’s understandable to feel righteous anger when those who should be helping, serving, and teaching decide to harm, take, and spread ignorance. In those cases, we may wish for severe punishment, but is that what God wants from us? Shouldn’t we be praying for repentance and mercy? Should the goal be punishment or restoration, growth, and healing? This brings to mind the biblical connection between justice and mercy. Is it possible to have true mercy without justice or vice versa?

There are parallels between these cases and God’s divine view of justice with mercy. We were created by God, in His very image, but we often rebel and have from our start, waged open war on God. Now, He had two options:

  • The cover up approach– He could have said, “Well, it’s no big deal. They kill each other. They steal from each other. They lie and show little concern for others, but I’m just going to ignore it. Maybe, if they do something nice every once and a while, I’ll look the other way.” Is that mercy? No, because mercy without justice is simply numbness. Mercy without justice means that God is no better than the people He forgives, and it means that the people never really change. They just go on living selfishly, and God does nothing about it.
  • The hang ’em high approach– On the other hand, He could have said, “You people are nothing but a disappointment to me. I created you to be like me, and all you do is hurt each other, so I’m going to wipe you out, send you to hell to be punished for eternity, and wipe my hands of you.” Is that justice? Not really, because real justice is not concerned with punishment, for the sake of punishment. The purpose of real justice is RESTORATION. If God had done this, then He would have been no better than the people He was punishing.

The model which God give us is justice with mercy, with the goal of restoring us to our creator. We see this time and again in the pages of the Bible: 

  • Moses in his anger kills an Egyptian overlord. 
  • David, wants Bathsheba so badly that he murders her husband so he can have her to himself. 
  • Paul, in religious intolerance, persecutes and murders many early Christians. 

God doesn’t ignore any of those acts. He condemns them. He doesn’t look the other way and pretend like they didn’t happen. They were each confronted and each lost something as a result of their actions. The was a cost, but no utter destruction. On the other hand, God is merciful to each of them. He doesn’t say that their lives are defined only by those acts of disobedience. He provides justice with mercy, for the purpose of restoring them and bringing about a greater good.

The ultimate display of this bond between justice and mercy is the cross. We had a debt that had to be paid, if God was to be just. But we were broken and impoverished. Rather than being sent to a spiritual debtors prison, God provided the payment in full… His son, who willingly paid what we couldn’t. By doing this, He calls us into a relationship with Him… a partnership, where He provides forgiveness, the resources and desire to change, and a road map to follow. In return, we give Him our willingness to become more like His son. 

God is just. He won’t look the other way when we reject Him and cause harm to ourselves and others. 

God is merciful. He seeks to restore us, giving up His only Son in order to accomplish that restoration. 

Justice and mercy. I want to see that for those who my human nature wants to see suffer, because it’s what God saw fit to offer me, and I’m so very grateful that He did.

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