by Rafael Bastien-Herrera
If you were to place justice and mercy side by side, they would obviously seem to be inharmonious. After all, justice would bring about the dispensing of punishment and wrath for the wrongdoer, and mercy is all about the compassionate love of God, pardoning the sinner, young or old.
However, these two attributes of God do have a biblical balance in his sovereign workings. The Bible has many references to God’s mercy and love. One important event, if you remember the Ninevites in the book of Jonah, God was merciful to them because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, who described God as “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). David said God is “gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8–9, NASB).
And then, the Bible also speaks of God’s justice and His wrath over sin. In fact, God’s perfect justice is a defining part of who God is: “There is no God apart from me, a righteous [just] God and a Savior; there is none but me” (Isaiah 45:21). “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). In the New Testament, Paul writes why God’s judgment is coming: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5–6). A frightening event found in the book of Genesis regarding Sodom & Gomorrah, reveals the terrible justice and wrath of God due to their unwillingness to bow their knee in repentance.
So, you see, the Bible declares the fact that God is loving and merciful, but it also reveals that He is just, and will one day dispense justified wrath upon the sin of the world.
All the sin from Adam to the time of Christ was under the tolerant mercy of God. God in His mercy chose not to punish sin, which would require an eternity in hell for all sinners, although He would have been perfectly just in doing so. Adam and Eve were not immediately destroyed when they ate the forbidden fruit. Instead, God planned a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). In His love God sent His own Son (John 3:16). Christ paid for every single sin ever committed; thus, God was just in punishing sin, and He can also justify sinners who receive Christ by faith (Romans 3:26). God’s justice and His mercy (love & wrath) were demonstrated by Christ’s death on the cross. At the cross, God’s justice (wrath) was meted out in full (upon Christ), and God’s mercy (love) was extended in full (to all who believe). So, God’s perfect mercy was exercised through His perfect justice.
The end result is that everyone who trusts in the Lord Jesus is saved from God’s wrath and instead experiences His grace and mercy (Romans 8:1). As Paul says, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9).