Merciful Justice & Cruel Compassion
Why do we label biblical justice archaic, culturally irrelevant, or downright cruel? We often render guilty verdicts against God’s law without even knowing what it says. We draw grotesque caricatures of commands we would rather not keep. If we read God’s law, we find that justice is not a cold rendering of graceless verdicts. It is spoken of in direct relation to love, mercy, compassion, righteousness, and so on. Justice isn’t the arch nemesis of mercy and love, it is their heroic defender.
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Here Micah unites justice, mercy, and humility while the world, and worldly church-goers, would convince us they are locked in bitter conflict. “God isn’t about judging” they say, “He’s about love and mercy.” What they mean is that it is arrogant to apply God’s law to the culture we live in because Christians are supposed to be compassionate instead of judgmental.
Don’t accept their guilt trip. Proverbs tells us “the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” It is humility, not pride, that teaches men to say “Amen” to God’s laws which demonstrate the administration of both justice and mercy.
The humble He guides in justice,
And the humble He teaches His way.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth,
To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.—Psalm 25:9-10
Mercy and justice are not distant relations or bitter rivals. They are knit together in those who are humble before God. This makes us decidedly unlike our wickedly compassionate neighbors who may endlessly orate guilt-inducing speeches on social justice while having no clue what establishes equity. Their animated feelings and vehement demands erupt from an authority no higher than their personal whims. Proverbs warns us, “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand all.” Our sin is that, we think we can resolve injustice by following evil men. By soliciting godless answers we become purveyors of wicked compassion rather than champions for the oppressed.
Perverted Justice: A Problem for Christians to Solve
This is not a new problem. Throughout the biblical narrative God’s people are rebuked for perverting justice and oppressing the fatherless, the widows, and the strangers in their land. Proverbs says, “The violence of the wicked will destroy them, Because they refuse to do justice.”
This rebuke hits scarily close to home. Isaiah didn’t sugar-coat when declaring God’s displeasure with His people as they fastidiously performed ceremonies and sacrifices while failing to do justice in the land.
Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me…
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.—Isaiah 1:13
Should this concern us as we attend worship every Sunday, singing our hymns and nodding our heads to the preaching, all the while unmercifully leaving the problems of injustice toward orphans, widows, and strangers in our land to be managed by the wicked? Does it turn away our guilt if we shrug our shoulders saying, “What can I do about it?”
Our love for God is displayed in how we treat our neighbors (Leviticus 19:9-17, 1 John 5:2-3). Jesus said, the greatest commandment is to love God, followed by loving our neighbor. ALL the law and prophets hang on these two things (Matthew 22:37-40). God’s word, not only tells us to do justice but tells us how to do it—if only we will listen.
Isaiah’s call to repentance is needed now as much as ever.
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.—Isaiah 1:16-17
Studying and applying God’s word justly is not effortless. We will wrestle with application and weary of clearing the obstacles wicked men place in our path. It will take detailed thought married to vigorous action, but first it will require humble repentance.