MERCY VS JUDGMENT
I suspect I was born with an over-developed sense of justice. From the time I was a child, if I didn’t think something was just or right, then it really upset me. Break the rules? Then you deserve the consequences that come your way, I thought – even if I didn’t verbalise it. I still vividly remember my annoyance in high school at the teacher who told us we couldn’t wear jackets or coats over our school uniform in class (in snowy weather, mind you) – whilst he was wearing a fleecy lined jacket. “Unfair!!” my teenage-overdeveloped-justice screamed internally. Similarly the teacher who reminded us not to rock on our chairs, despite his own habit of doing so. Clearly perfection was a standard I unfortunately held teachers to, even if I didn’t meet that standard myself.
I doubt it’s genetic, but if it is I suspect I may have passed this over-developed justice “gene” on to one of our children. I won’t name him. A number of years ago, I taught him how to play Carcassone and accidentally forgot to explain one of the rules, which turned out to impact the way the game ended. I won. He lost. Let’s just say, to this day, whenever we learn a new game he says, “Are you SURE that’s all the rules, Mum?” Oh dear.
Although my sense of justice was a little… or a lot… over-developed and clearly flawed, like so many “broken” things, its root is a good thing. We serve a just God, and we see this throughout the Word of God. At the end of his life as Moses stood before the Promised Land which he was not to enter and sang a song to the Israelites. Near the beginning we find these words:
The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.
In Psalm 9, David recounts the wonderful deeds of the Lord. He writes:
But the Lord sits enthroned forever; He has established his throne for justice, and He judges the world with righteousness; He judges the peoples with uprightness.
The prophet Micah, a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, prophesied judgment on Judah and Israel for, amongst other things, their corruption, greed, immorality and lack of justice (Micah 3:9), and reminded them:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I am so grateful we serve a just God. None of us would want God to be unjust or arbitrary in His judgment. When we look at the justice in the world, we have the hope that one day justice will prevail. But if we only experienced God’s justice, we’d all be quaking in our boots. The truth is that if we all got what we deserve, we’d be in mighty big trouble, because we all deserve death!
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S HOPE…
But right from the beginning we see that God is not only just, but He is merciful.
In the garden of Eden, God gave Adam some specific instructions:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
What did Adam and Eve do? They could eat of any tree except one. Of course, they ate the fruit of the one forbidden tree. Immediately everything changed for them. For the first time, they hid from God.
God is just – and because of their sin, the serpent, Satan, Eve and Adam faced the judgment of God. But even in that moment of judgment, God showed mercy. Genesis 3:15 is sometimes called the “mother promise” or the “mother of all promises”, because in the midst of judgment, God promises a Saviour. He promised that the Seed of the woman would defeat the seed of the serpent.
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
As Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden in judgment, they carried the hope and promise of a Saviour, and God clothed them with animal skins.
Praise God for the beautiful tension between mercy and judgment. It’s not just historic, but it reaches through the ages to touch you and I. It’s best seen in the Cross of Christ. God’s requirement of justice and the judgment of our sin was met by Jesus when He died on the cross. Justice was served, Jesus paid the penalty. Now, because of Jesus, you and I receive mercy. Man sinned and God suffered. There is nothing fair about this.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:4-5, 8
Oh, may the reality and beauty of this truth grip our hearts and make us fall down in worship of our great God!
May those of us like me with an over-developed sense of justice – or even a well-developed sense of justice – remember the mercy we have been shown and show mercy to others. Jesus reminded us of this beautifully in the parable of the servant who begged his master to forgive him for a debt that was so large he had no hope of paying it back. The master forgave the debt, and then the servant went and had a fellow servant thrown in jail for a much smaller debt owed to him.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?
May those of us who have experienced the lavish mercy of God also demonstrate mercy to others.
God bless you abundantly.
Your Care Team pastor,