We’ve all seen it. Two believers squaring off to contend for their position or politics. The forum might be Twitter, a small group, a coffee shop or maybe a Sunday meeting. But the atmosphere remains the same. Language is charged, listening is poor and learning is, well,…learning is running late and stopped by the pub for a brew. Yep, just a couple of Jesus-followers setting aside a whole lotta Scripture for the privilege of owning each other in a conversation.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking of someone you know. Maybe they would read it and think of you.
I can relate. I find it difficult blending justice and mercy. It’s much easier for me to go hard at one or the other. This is a justice issue; this is a mercy moment. In my quest for simplicity and clarity, I reach for Solomon’s sword to divide the baby, so I can deal with them separately. But the funny thing about justice and mercy is, they go together. And what God has joined together, let no man separate.
What The Lord Requires
“What does the Lord require of us? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8). Here justice, mercy and humility are all introduced as the Lord’s requirement. Picking and choosing our preference is not presented as an option. We are not afforded the luxury of saying, “Mercy seems nice, but I’m more of a justice-guy.” Likewise, our vision of humility must have teeth; it must be willing to boldly blow the whistle and call evil to account.
Why go through the mental gymnastics of stretching to apply all three? Simple. It’s what the Lord requires of us.
If you’re anything like me, you were born with the justice-chip already installed. Batman and Superman were my first TV shows. (Truth, justice and the American way! Amen, preach it superman!) I went to college for Criminology and never, ever changed my major. Not once. From there I was off to the Police Academy where, upon graduation, I accepted a role to lead a private security department in a high-end retail store. Let justice roll down!
Justice I knew. Mercy? Not so much.
Where Justice and Mercy Kiss
In the years to follow, here’s what I learned. Mercy addresses how God relates to us as “sinners.” It describes his disposition of kindness, patience, and forgiveness toward us even when we don’t deserve it. God’s mercy is eloquently illustrated when the Psalmist says, ”He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (Ps. 103: 10)
Mercy is God’s perfect love extended into the lives of imperfect humans. God’s mercy covers us, and then in turn, we cover others with mercy. Mercy endures, it is long-suffering, it pardons rather than punishes. Mercy, justice, and humility walk hand-in-hand. When justice is what we deserve, mercy pardons. And the whole enterprise is powered by humility.
From where do we draw such an audacious idea of a person fully integrating justice and mercy?
At the center of the glorious gospel stands the cross; the place where God satisfied justice in a remarkably merciful way. God did not wink at our sin, or find a technicality so he could press for exoneration. No, the wages of sin is death. And because of God’s holiness and perfection, he could not bend the law nor spring us from the demands of justice. God’s law must be upheld; justice must be satisfied; blood must be shed; death must come. A truly holy and just God was obligated to address the evil of sin.
One solution was to send us all to hell. It would be fair, given the depravity in our hearts. But it would not be merciful.
So God found a way to blend perfect justice with absolute mercy. He devised a plan, known only to Him, “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26b) The plan involved a swap.
Jesus accomplished for us what we could never do for ourselves. In mercy, he substituted himself for us. Jesus swapped places with us. He absorbed the penalty for our sin and accepted the torture and death that we deserved. We owed the debt, Jesus paid it. Through Christ’s death upon the cross, the depth of God’s love was demonstrated as “mercy and truth…met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10 KJV). On a bloody cross perched upon a hill named Golgatha, justice and mercy kissed through the sacrifice of our humble Savior.
Before those with eyes to see, the cross portrays God acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly.
Justice and Mercy Applied
Recently, in a watershed moment representing the culmination of half a century of prayers and tears, Roe v. Wade was overturned. Personally, I’m ecstatic. But I recognize in the minds of many American’s, the Supreme Court decision represents justice denied. In this climate, the temperature of polarized debate has shot up to “scorch.” Civilized dialogue will deteriorate more quickly into venting judgements. Social media, already dangerous in toxicity levels, will raise the volume and mute those who disagree.
Where does a Christian stand as the quality of culture falls, or slopes downward to accommodate the voices looking to drop the gloves to gain the clicks? What does the Lord require of us?
In tumultuous times, God’s word, announced by Micah and embodied in Jesus, remains the same. “To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)
Here’s some ways we can apply this in the uncertain days ahead:
- Acting justly. We can thank God for his justice toward the unborn. Those without a voice now have a law that helps to protect their lives. May God’a people throughout the land unite now in their respective states to advocate for State and local laws that support the Supreme court decision.
- Love mercy. We can ask God for grace to be merciful. Mercy must now flow in many directions. May we be merciful to women with unplanned pregnancies by stepping forward to support, love and, when and where necessary, foster and adopt children. May we also be merciful towards those who see these issues differently. With respect to God and the gospel, you did not always believe as you do now. God showed you mercy. Don’t let it end with you. Pass it along.
- Walk humbly. We can pray that God will help us to be humble. Many will be angered over this Supreme Court decision. Political polarization may deepen. For those who believe deeply about protecting life, the line between flesh and spirit, God’s justice and our anger, and where the line of wisdom starts and ends will be difficult to discern. The answer is to walk humbly. May God allow our attitude towards those that disagree reflect the Savior who loved the ones who hated him.
Sure, times are complicated. But the path through this maze is the same glorious trail we have followed since the day of conversion. Look to the One who united perfect justice with supreme mercy in an astonishing display of self-emptying humility. Somehow, his approach magnified his message. Not merely to win an argument. But to win the ones for whom he died.
- Think of a time when you deserved justice but received pardon. Who today, is God asking you to extend pardon?
- How can we show mercy to others who may not be in agreement with us?
- How can we reflect Christ through the way in which we love and show mercy toward others God places in our path?