Many people today set mercy and justice in opposition to each other, but where is mercy if justice is absent? Could the victims of genocide really be said to experience mercy if their unrepentant killers were ushered past them into the Kingdom of Heaven? Could Heaven even be Heaven if unrepentant sinners dwelled there? At some point, mercy demands that justice rightly separate what is stubbornly evil from what is good. For now, there is a time of mercy and access to the throne of mercy, but there comes a day when justice requires a final answer and verdict. It is mercy that accompanies us to the justice of the final judgement. Mercy and grace prepare us.
Mercy that canceled the requirements of God’s justice and His law would not be mercy at all. It would leave us deformed and incomplete; it would mean that injustice would continue forever. Neither of these outcomes is merciful.
Further, justice that did not rely on grace and mercy would not be justice at all. This is because without grace and mercy, we are dead in our sins; justice is unattainable.
One of the signs of orthodoxy is the ability to hold competing truths in tension, realizing that they are there to balance each other. For example, on the one hand God is sovereign and omnipotent, but on the other we are free to say no to Him; both are taught in Scripture. Our freedom mysteriously interacts with God’s sovereignty and omnipotence.
Heresy will not abide any tension and so it selects one truth while discarding others meant to balance or complete it. For example, is God punitive or forgiving; is he insistent or patient? Too often we focus on one while downplaying or dropping the other. In some eras, the notion of a harsh, strict God was so emphasized that His mercy was all but lost. Today, the tendency is to stress His mercy and kindness while nearly dismissing His role as the sovereign Judge who will set things right by upholding the just and punishing the unrepentant and wicked.
The balance of orthodoxy holds that justice and mercy are alike with God.
- The LORD loves righteousness and justice. His mercy fills the earth (Ps 35:5).
- Righteousness and justice are the habitation of your throne: mercy and truth shall go before your face (Ps 89:14).
- Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! Because of your faithfulness and justice, answer me (Ps 143:1).
Yes, in God, justice and mercy meet.