Friday, 29 October 2010

Justice and Mercy

I've heard a few times a particular way of understanding God's justice and God's mercy. It goes something like this:

'If there are two people and one goes to hell and one goes to heaven, then we see God's justice and God's mercy. The one in hell receives God's justice because all people are sinners and deserve hell, whilst the other receives God's mercy because, although deserving hell, has been saved to heaven.'

You may not be surprised that I completely disagree with this whole concept and understanding of justice and mercy. I would want to say that this is not how the Bible speaks of justice and mercy and also gives people and distorted and wrong picture of who God is and what he is like.

Aside from the way it makes God really weird and random (what kind of God? and so what?) in the way He chooses some for heaven and some for hell (also known as limited atonement; Jesus only died for some people, so only some people can ever be saved), but that this understanding of justice is, in my opinion, completely unbiblical.

In the Scriptures, God's justice is about redeeming and healing the hopeless and helpless. It is about God bringing hope and redemption to the powerless and those unable to save themselves. Justice is not about God punishing people according to some apparent higher law that people have supposedly broken. Justice is always about redemption to the powerless. Jeremiah prays, 'Correct me, Lord, but only with justice - not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.' (Jeremiah 10:24). In the book of Micah it is the powerful who 'despise justice and distort all that is right' (Micah 3:9) causing pain to the powerless. God will govern the people with justice (Psalm 9:8); God will judge the afflicted ones with justice (Psalm 72:2); God upholds justice to the poor and needy (Psalm 140:12). God will shepherd the people with justice, binding up the weak and injured Ezekiel 34:16). God calls us to not deny justice to the poor and the oppressed (Amos 2:7). Jesus is the one who will 'proclaim justice to the nations' and lead 'justice to victory.' (Matthew 12:18-20). Jesus is the one who condemns the Pharisees from withholding justice and the love of God to the poor (Luke 11:42).
In Acts 8 the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53 and Philip, beginning with that very piece of Scripture, explains the good news of Jesus. Acts 8:33 says that this Messiah, this Jesus, 'in his humiliation was deprived of justice.' And in Romans 3 Paul speaks of the Cross as a means of justice by God's grace and mercy. So justice is not punishment, it is about defending the cause of the poor and powerless, of those unable to save themselves.

Those who withhold justice however will receive punishment. Does not matter how much we offer sacrifices and burnt offerings to God if we are withholding justice to the poor and oppressed. God will not accept them. He wants us to act with justice, mercy and humility (Micah 6:6-8).

Justice is not punishment.

Punishment in the Scriptures is not some kind of retributive penalty but about restoration and cleaning. It is a purging of sin in order that the land and the people might be cleansed and renewed (see Joshua 7).

I'm not sure where from in the Scriptures people can justify that beginning anecdote I used of what justice and mercy is.

Justice and mercy is something I am keen for this new church plant to be engaged with right from the start. My heart is that those who are oppressed and powerless would find hope and redemption, and that as a church we can be a people of justice who are a voice to the voiceless and a source of strength to the weak. My hope and prayer is that we can be a people of justice, pointing to this God of justice who is passionate about us and loves us with an everlasting love. My heart is that people will encounter the love of the living Jesus and recognise this God who is for us. And if God is for us, who can ever be against us?


Julie said...

Good post and great to see a certain doctrine and ethics tutor's words remembered (especially as he's on your support group I gather)- I use them often! I continue to pray for your ministry.
Sadly we have had to sell our property in Teignmouth but I will keep up to date via your blog.

Sarah Crane said...

Great words Joe! Hope Sarah is doing well xx

Joe Haward said...

Thank you Julie. John is a part of our support group and it is good to have him about.
Glad you can keep in touch and if you are ever down this way let us know.

Thank you Sarah! Hope you're ok? Sarah is doing ok. Pain has been a bit intense lately but the baby will be here soon. Keep praying!