Matthew 5:7 - The Justice and Mercy Paradox

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“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” -Matthew 5:7

At first blush that sounds lovely but it begs the question, what about justice? It sounds sweet to talk about mercy, but what about those who are suffering under the crushing weight of oppression? Should they continue to shower mercy after mercy upon those who persecute them? Is it a sin to cry out for justice, as David so often did in the psalms, or should we be interceding on behalf of our oppressors and petitioning God to show them mercy? Is it both? Is it neither?  

what about those who are suffering under the weight of oppression?

In a fallen world, where sin has completely inverted reality, how can we even know what is merciful and what is just? On all sides we have relative views of right and wrong. What some people call love, others call hate. What some people call peace, others call war. What feels like mercy to you, might feel like judgment to someone else. We are told to avoid making judgments, which is itself a sweeping judgement. If we try to remain neutral by choosing inaction on any given issue, we are acting in favor of whichever point of view is dominant. How do we avoid being the double minded man of James 1, tossed about by ever-changing tides of differing perspectives? How do we know when to extend mercy and when to demand justice?

As Christ-followers we must resort to the only unshakable foundation for any judgment or any action; the word of the great I Am who is the same yesterday, today, and forever and in whom there is no change or shifting shadow. He was the word and was with the word from before the foundations of creation and in his word we find a lamp unto our feet. What does his word tell us about mercy and about justice?

The bible is brimful of instructions for both, but one interesting contrast is presented in the first chapter of Isaiah. Verses 16-17 say:

"Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause."

This description of justice sounds a lot like mercy if you are the oppressed, the fatherless, or the widow being referred to, doesn’t it? In this case, justice against the powerful is mercy on behalf of the vulnerable. The prophet doesn’t stop there though. He continues in verse 18:  

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Here is an offer of mercy in the place of deserved justice for those same oppressors whose sins are like scarlet! But it is not an unconditional offer. All through scripture, mercy, though it is always a free and undeserved gift, is dependent upon something; upon repentance, upon extending mercy to others. (James 2:13, Psalm 18:25.) All through scripture justice is also described as being enacted on behalf of the weak, the oppressed, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan. But in the eyes of God we are all the oppressor, we have all fallen short, have all deserved death, have all needed his mercy. How do we reconcile our own grateful acceptance of undeserved mercy with our obligation to secure justice for the vulnerable?

Justice against the powerful is mercy on behalf of the vulnerable

The only way to make sense of this paradox - mercy for the undeserving who are yet sinners, and justice for one behalf of the vulnerable against whom they have sinned - is in the person of Christ and his death upon the cross. This is where the just and deserved wrath of God is fulfilled and finds completion in the greatest act of mercy ever conceived. At the cross all-powerful God takes on the vulnerable flesh of human man, perfect innocence becomes sin, and the veil between a just God and a guilty people is forever torn. This is where Christ declares that all who repent will find mercy. This is where Christ establishes no excuse for all who do not. We imitate Christ when we establish justice for those who tremble under the thumb of any tyrant, and we imitate Christ when we forgive all tyrants who seek his mercy.

posted by Daily,
September 04 18

Daily Nourish serves to encourage Christians to honor God with all their heart, mind, soul & strength and to love their neighbor as themselves. Thanks for stopping by!


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