There are attributes of God that, when they are paired are somewhat difficult to reconcile. The two that stand out most for me are mercy and justice. If God is truly just, then no one would ever make it to heaven. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It doesn’t take too many years of living on this planet to realize the truth of that statement. We see it in others but worst of all we see it in ourselves. The conflict between what we want to do and what we actually do is played out in our lives almost every day. Paul was so right. Romans 7:19 (NIV)“For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”
But if God is merciful, why doesn’t He just declare a moratorium on all sin and simply issue a blanket forgiveness and welcome us all into heaven? It just doesn’t seem to make sense! But we can’t use one of God’s attributes to nullify another. When bad things happen to people who are trying to follow God, we can’t argue that God is either not all powerful or He isn’t good – to try and make sense of the messiness and pain of our lives. So, how do we reconcile these seemingly unreconcilable attributes?
First, let’s look at each of the attributes separately. God is just. Put in other words God is fair. He can’t be bought off. Psalm 9:16 (NIV) “The Lord is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.” In the book of Micah, God condemned dishonest business practices. Micah 6:11 (NIV) “Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?” Earlier in the same chapter God states His demand for honesty and justice positively. Micah 6:8 (NIV) “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God is just and He demands that we also act justly. His justice demands judgment of all sin. And this is where mercy steps in.
Joel 2:13 (NLT) “’Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.” For the repentant sinner there is always the hope of forgiveness. One of the most reassuring passages of scripture is found in 1 John 1:9 (NIV) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Forgiveness and cleansing! Amazing! Only in God could these two qualities be married. As fallible, broken human beings we tend to fall into one camp or the other. We can show extreme mercy to those we love but to those we don’t, our demands for justice far outweigh any mercy we may have.
In His perfection, God is able to bring these two qualities together. Romans 3:25-26 (NIV) “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in his forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
The Lord realized that we would try and take advantage of His mercy, so, through Paul, He told us Romans 6:1-2 (NIV) “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
God is both merciful and just. Makes me think of some of the stunts shown on television with the warning – “These are professionals – don’t try this at home.” God is the only one who can reconcile these two attributes perfectly. We need to receive His forgiveness and allow Him to live out His life in us. In the meantime, Keep the Son in Your Eyes.