In the court of law we are taught to value justice. When a people group suffers great injustice we cry out for a righteous judgment, and together we are moved to stand by them. Yet, at the same time we are also taught within our families and friendships to also value mercy and to forgive one another.
We know both justice and mercy are vital to the health of our society; we know this deep in our hearts to be true! They are expressions of our love. Take a father for example who extends his love to his disobedient child by showing mercy. How amazing that forgiveness feels! Take a mother who shows love to her victimized child by demanding justice. How vital it is to stand for justice! The need for justice and the power of forgiveness are unquestionable.
When we express justice it's always at the expense of mercy. And when we express mercy it's always at the expense of justice. Have you ever thought to what extent we should judge, and to what extent we should forgive? You see at some point we draw a line between the two. Where does the line of mercy end and justice begin?
Our society suggests that line is relative for each person and is based on the act committed or the level of hurt someone experiences. But individually, it's you who decides who you are willing to forgive, and it's you who determines what is unforgivable. If you think about it everything seems so circumstantial. Every case has its caveats. Every scenario is individualized.
We eventually realize, when we see the effects of absolute atrocities that demand justice side by side with the revitalizing effects of mercy, humanely speaking, there is no absolute way to understand either of these things. Now have you ever thought, where does God draw the line? Does God offer any clarity? Based on the reality we live in I think it makes a lot of sense for people to believe when it comes to matters of faith and matters of life beyond this one, good deeds outweigh bad deeds. If you're a good person good things await you. If you're a bad person, you'll probably have something to fear. Christianity is different. It's unique because it teaches "the wages of sin is death", any sin. This leaves a lot of people confused. Why would I believe in a God who demands justice for even the smallest sin? For example, when I was in high school I used to steal extra fruit from the cafeteria (seriously)-- should I really go to hell for this? Christianity also teaches that mercy and salvation are available for all-- absolutely everyone. This is also absolutely ludicrous to some. You've probably asked the emotionally charged question, "How can God be just if he is willing to forgive serial killers, rapists, and genocidal dictators?"
You're probably thinking, where is he going with this...
The thing is almost all people who believe in God, believe in a God who is absolute. There is no one greater. Neither God's justice nor mercy can not be outdone by humans. This leads us to the great dilemma... So where does God draw the line? We see that line can't be drawn arbitrarily; it can't be drawn by circumstance or how he feels emotionally at the time. If he demands justice, where is the mercy for the criminal? If he offers mercy, where is the justice for the victim. God's supposed to be full of justice, full of mercy.
Author and apologist, Ravi Zacharias was once asked to speak at the United Nations on the topic, “Navigating with Absolutes in a Relativistic World”. He spoke on the search of absolutes in four areas: evil, justice, love and forgiveness. He states:
“I want you to think for a moment. Is there any event in history where these four converged in one place? It happened on a hill called Calvary. Only on the cross of Jesus Christ do love, justice, evil, and forgiveness converge."
How do we reconcile a God who can be all merciful yet completely just at the same time?
On a cursory level it seems like an utter contradiction. But herein lies the infinitude love of God. He does not draw the line. He offers mercy to everyone who has ever sinned while demanding justice for every sin ever committed. But how...? Unlike us, He extends complete mercy through complete justice. He does this by bearing the penalty of our sins himself. The penalty for sin is death. God willingly comes to earth as a man and pays the penalty in our place. At the cross God fulfills the requirements of justice, and through the cross, he extends mercy to all people, in all places through all time. When we think about love, the best kind of love we like to portray is unconditional love. It's the love that says, “no matter what you’ve done, I’ll always love you, I’ll never judge you.” We often say God's love is unconditional. Yes, it's unconditional to whatever you've done, but because he puts the condition on himself. God's love, does not exist in the absence judgment, but in its presence. John, one of the disciples closest to Jesus goes as far to say "God is love" for this reason. The message of the gospel shows us that what makes us right with God is not about anything we do or ever could do. It’s not about if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. In the eyes of a truly just God, we are all dead to him. Through Jesus Christ we are made alive because of what Jesus has done, once, and in full. God now extends the greatest amount of mercy to all who are willing to accept this truth. C.S. Lewis says, "Into such a world, filled with sin, suffering, sorrow and death, came Jesus of Nazareth. He came not to make bad people good but to make dead people alive"
Justice and Mercy converge at the cross. They are absolute expressions of God's love. I believe it's through the cross that we begin to understand the two. It's the point of reference that offers true clarity to the confusion. I absolutely love this image. The gospel is so simple that a child can understand the love of God. Yet, it's so profound that we can marvel at how it brings together two of the biggest themes of our human existence. I'm floored every time at the awesomeness of God. I never get tired of it and it never gets old. You see I believe, it's only when you know HOW MUCH you are loved, that you are able to begin to understanding with what depth and capacity you should love others while extending mercy and honoring justice.
I wonder sometimes... why wouldn't you want this to be true? I believe you owe it to yourself to find out. You see the story doesn't end at the cross. It's what happens after that changes history for ever.
2. Nabeel Qureshi. “No God but One: Allah or Jesus? 2016