“Mercy triumphs over judgement.” James 2:13 NASU
Oddly enough there is a mindset that views what is called justice as greater than the love of God. No matter how loving God is, anyone who has not gotten saved before they die, is doomed to face the justice of God by which they mean nonstop endless suffering. This is the motivation for the writing of this article.
Several years ago the following thought came to me. “Our theology is affected by our view of God. Our view of God is affected by our theology.” Today I would add that our theology may be affected by the culture we are raised/live in to some degree.
What about the justice of God? Does it overrule the God who is LOVE? We seem to accept to a limited degree that God is Love, however, many view what they call the “justice of God” as somehow greater than his love. The Bible does declare, “God is Love,” and “God is a consuming fire” but I don’t know of a scripture that specifically states, “God is just,” and when his actions are called just it usually means righteous. The biggest problem we have with what we call the justice of God, is our human carnal concept of justice.
The justice of God is based upon the primary nature of God, which is LOVE, and is demonstrated in and by his righteousness. It is not something merely hypothetical, but is seen in his relationship to his creation. Jan Antonsson wrote, “God’s love cannot be quantified, qualified, or limited, for it is like Him, limitless and eternal. Death cannot stop it; life cannot produce it.”
The viewpoint of the vast majority of believers and nonbelievers, concerning the "justice of God" is primarily based upon how one perceives Old Testament legal concepts as having more to do with vengeance and strong punishment. It should be noted that it was not necessarily as harsh as we may tend to think. Persons accused of murder had cities of refuge and there was also an emphasis upon restitution rather than imprisonment. Consider how Cain was treated after murdering his brother Abel which is hardly the way we would have dealt with it. "Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold." And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.” (Genesis 4:15 NASU). We can find no death penalty there.
We correctly believe that wrong doing should be penalized in an appropriate manner. However, if a guilty person is found at a court trial to be “not guilty,” some claim that justice failed. But do we mean justice or vengeance? We need to remember that many innocent persons are found to be guilty, and suffer immensely because of the desire to have someone pay for an offense done by whomever. Such persons after being brutalized, or giving up hope, in prison often end up becoming criminals. A long time ago, someone said that it is better for nine guilty men to go free than to have one innocent man hanged.
There are those you say that the sinner who doesn’t accept Jesus Christ before death must go to hell, as no matter how much God is love, his justice demands it. Hell is said to be a place of intense never ending fiery suffering which makes burning at the stake into a picnic. This sentence from a God who is love makes the worst human torture and state killing, which at least has an ending, seem like child’s play. This demand for vengeance demonstrates man putting himself over and above the love of God, or shall we say negating God’s love. A loving father would never punish his children the way our Heavenly Father is said to have planned for billions upon billions of those who were created in “his image and likeness,” with only a tiny handful being saved.
There is a valid place for discipline and correction as Scripture clearly teaches and God designs it to work for our benefit. Ephesians 6:4 tells us, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Here is a rewording of it: “Fathers do not exasperate/infuriate your children to anger or enrage them, but bring them up in the training with discipline, correction and admonition of the Lord.” Now, if this is the word to earthly fathers, would our Father of Love have a different standard?
All too often politicians who want to be “tough on crime” are the same ones who callously refuse to do anything about some of the main causes — poverty and lack of education. “Those lazy bums on welfare, if we give them less money then maybe they will get a job.” If a job is available it usually pays less than what the miser Scrooge would give them. While some tend to a life of crime, most end up there because of poverty, health or lack of education. Those who err and commit criminal acts need not just correction, but rehabilitation as punitive punishment alone tends to harden an individual. No hope often leads to acts of desperation.
The judgements of God are acts of mercy designed to bring remediation and positive change for the better, not endless punishment as some choose to believe. There indeed may be severe punishment at times, but there also much MERCY — loving-kindness, and it is failure to appreciate this aspect of our Father’s loving heart that has led to much evil done in the name of God.
A.W. Tozer wrote this, “Justice, when used of God, is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more; and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent criterion, but simply acting like Himself in a given situation.” (The Knowledge of the Holy).
How we understand the word “justice” found in many more modern Bibles has much to do with our understanding of what that word has come to mean to us today. We view it in within the context of crime and punishment, with a particular emphasis on punishment, and not necessarily with a regard toward innocence. While the legal system is in theory supposed to sort out the real criminal, it tends toward conviction especially when politics are involved.
Recently when President Obama announced the killing of Osama Bin laden, he said that “justice has been done.” But was this American justice that involves an arrest, trial, sentence and the carrying out of the sentence, or was it revenge/vengeance on a very wicked man? To those who insist that the justice of God supercede his love and mercy, one wonders if they believe that God seeks revenge (“They rejected my Son, so I’ll get them.”) on those, who in life, didn’t receive Christ as Savior in this life.
People say that when a person is not convicted, justice is deemed to have failed, regardless of how innocent the person may be. When a person has been arrested for some heinous crime, one often hears one or both of the following statements: “I hope they rot (burn) in hell.” And, “An eye for an eye.” How disgusting, especially for Christian to say!
One wonders if Christians have ever read what Jesus had to say about “an eye for an eye.” How many Bible believers who say these words have ever read the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-44. He turned the vengeance aspect of these words into a “love your enemies” way of life. It was an attitudinal change. It is a change that sets the injured party free from hate and the bitterness of unforgiveness. In Romans Paul quotes the OT words, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,“ and then adds, if your enemy is hungry to feed him etc.
Robert Baker Girdlestone in his Synonyms of the OT wrote concerning the English language. “Another difficultly has arisen in England from the poverty of our language. We have no one word that can convey the idea of righteousness and that of justification, as they are set forth in Scripture. In this case, as in many others, we see the wisdom of God in selecting Hebrew as the means of communication with his creatures, because here the ideas of righteousness, justification, and acquittal all cluster around one verbal root, and thus are seen to be parts of the whole.
“It is unfortunate that the English language should have grafted the Latin word “justice”(which is used in somewhat of a forensic sense) into a vocabulary that was already possessed of the good word “righteousness”, since it tends to create a distinction that has no existence in Scripture. ..... No distinction between the claims of justice and the claims of love is recognized in Scripture.” End of quotation.
God deals in righteousness, or right-ness, man deals in various levels of what is called justice. An extensive study could be of the various Hebrew or Greek words translated as just or justice, however, it has been decided not to include such in this article.
We conclude with this: Our God who is LOVE deals in RIGHTEOUSNESS not justice. His mercy triumphs over what we call justice, and His love is the most powerful force in all of His creation and to ALL of his creation.
Psalm 85:10-11 “Loving-kindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth, And righteousness looks down from heaven.”