God is a God of justice. We know this. Justice and righteousness are an integral part of who He is and He will not shy away from rightfully apportioning punishment for sin and wrongdoing; irrespective of the persons concerned.
We see this when He deals with David for sleeping with another man’s wife and subsequently killing her husband, 1 Samuel 12:7-14 and we see this when He debates with Abraham over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18:16-33 However, in the case of the latter we are given an interesting perspective into this God of justice and how He works. We see God and Abraham debating what would constitute justice in God’s approach to the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham challenged God to administer justice with mercy; and perhaps what was most amazing was the fact that God was amenable to this suggestion. He didn’t shut Abraham up or dismiss his pleas. Instead, He was open to any opportunity not to have to destroy the cities in question.
This conversation between God and Abraham is not an isolated event. Twice Moses interceded for the sin of the Israelites, urging and successfully convincing God not to destroy them. Deuteronomy 9:13-29 and Exodus 32:9-14 God relented and chose not to destroy the Israelites in the manner He had originally purposed, because Moses interceded. Amos is another example. Amos 7:1-9 In his case, he was shown several visions concerning pending destruction for the Israelites because of their sins. Amos spoke up for the people and God repented. Instead of choosing destruction as originally planned, God chose to depart from the Israelites for a while and execute judgement on the house of Jeroboam alone.
This show of mercy in the face of deserved judgement is a demonstration of the love of God. It goes to show that God loves so much that He would prefer to show mercy than to apportion judgement. The manner in which He treated the people of Nineveh gives credence to this view. He was well within His rights to destroy the people of Nineveh for their offences, but He chose to give them a chance to change by sending Jonah to warn them. When Jonah resisted, obeyed and subsequently complained, the loving words of the Lord rang out loud and clear. He said to Jonah in chapter 4 verse 11
“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
If His care for the people and cattle of Nineveh is not a demonstration of God’s love and the mercy that flows there from, what is?
God already has the evidence for condemnation. All He’s looking for is evidence to save; from anyone, anywhere. If someone stands up to plead the cause of the offender, He is always willing, ready and even eager to hear and give mercy a chance.
God is an impartial arbiter and will apportion justice and judgement accordingly; yet simultaneously He is also a God of mercy, forgiveness and love. He describes Himself as such in Exodus. Exodus 34:6-7 In His description of Himself, God starts with those attributes that align with mercy, and states that though “compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin,” He will not hesitate to administer justice and judgement when necessary. That means God is a God of mercy first, before He is one of judgement.
Unfortunately, the picture we have painted of God is one in the reverse. We tend to portray Him as a God of justice, vengeance and judgement first, and then a God of mercy. We have labelled God the bad cop who is just sitting on His heavenly throne with a long whip in His hand, waiting to flog us errant earthlings into eternal submission. Wrong. God is love and mercy and goodness and kindness. Where He executes judgement and justice, it is because there are legitimate reasons to do so.
So we have a God who by virtue of who He is must administer justice, but in the same vein will be merciful, even when administering justice. All it needs is someone to speak up for the offender. This is what is known as intercession – the act of pleading on behalf of another or mediating in a dispute. An easy parallel would be the example of the courtroom with its impartial judge, God. All the judge requires is evidence to save or condemn the offender. In this case God already has the evidence for condemnation. All He’s looking for is evidence to save; from anyone, anywhere. If someone stands up to plead the cause of the offender, He is always willing, ready and even eager to hear and give mercy a chance. Ezekiel 22:30-31 is a prime example of the mercy of our God. In plain words, God says that He only punished Israel so greatly because there was no one to intercede on their behalf, no one to stand in the gap for them. This is the measure of the mercy of God and how He craves for it to be called upon when administering justice and judgement.
This interplay between God and man concerning judgement also throws light on the importance of intercession. In the examples discussed earlier, we see men like you and I who stood in the gap for others and whose actions influenced God’s decisions. We also see God earnestly seeking for advocates when administering justice and judgement. This is also what John 1 John 2:1 describes as the ministry of Christ who is at this moment standing as an advocate for us with the Father.
One might then ask, ‘why does a merciful God need human intervention in order to demonstrate an attribute that is intrinsic to His nature?’ This interplay between God and man, and the need for intercession, does not make God any less God. By engaging with mankind on issues of judgement and justice, God is trying to teach very important lessons.
What are the lessons to be learnt? Answer: How to be our brother’s keeper; James 5:16 how to build bridges between the offender and the aggrieved; Matthew 5:9 how to be the voice of the voiceless; Psalm 82:3-4 how, like God, to temper justice with mercy; Micah 6:8 how to love our neighbours as ourselves. Mark 12:30-31
Moses loved the Israelites more than eternal posterity and his place in God’s book. Exodus 32:32 God appreciated this and repented. Unfortunately in the case of Jonah, God expressed disappointment in Jonah’s lack of compassion for the people and cattle of Nineveh. For God to ensure that mercy prevailed, He had to force Jonah to deliver the message that eventually brought redemption to Nineveh.
What are the lessons to be learnt? Answer: How to be our brother’s keeper; how to build bridges between the offender and the aggrieved; how to be the voice of the voiceless; how, like God, to temper justice with mercy; how to love our neighbours as ourselves.
These lessons in fostering inter-human relationships constitute the second half of the 10 commandments Exodus 20:12-17 and were amplified in the ministry of Jesus. Through parables like that of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-37 and the Unmerciful Servant Matthew 18:21-35, as well as His forgiveness of those termed as sinners (e.g. the adulterous woman) John 8:1-11, Jesus taught that we must care for each other and forgive. He encouraged his church to exhaust avenues for mediation, no matter the gravity of the offence. Matthew 18:15-17, 21-22 This was one of the central themes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:23-25, 44 and it forms part of what one must do to inherit eternal life. Matthew 22:36-40
For emphasis, I repeat. In all this, God sought to teach you and I to love.
One of the most popular verses in scripture is John 3:16. We recite this verse often. Nearly every Christian child knows it by heart. It talks of the magnitude and measure of the love of God, such that He gave His only begotten son for the entire world so that we should not die in sin. Note this: God didn’t give His son after we repented or only contingent on us believing in Him. God gave His son before there was any repentance and without guarantee that anyone would believe in him or accept him. He did this just because He is who He says He is, “compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
Yes God is just, but let us remember Him also for His unending love and His immeasurable mercy. Let’s also remember that He earnestly desires that you and I will learn to love His creation enough to stand in the gap for them.
|↑1||1 Samuel 12:7-14|
|↑3||Deuteronomy 9:13-29 and Exodus 32:9-14|
|↑6||1 John 2:1|
|↑17||Matthew 18:15-17, 21-22|
|↑18||Matthew 5:23-25, 44|