Does mercy trump justice?


Judgement passed. Sentence handed down. Justice done.

There is a deep-seated satisfaction in knowing that the law has been upheld. The perpetrators have been caught and punished appropriately. Those that tried to cheat, deceive and malign have had their comeuppance. What could be more fitting than that?

Courtroom gavel

“I know it was my fault,” we say. “I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this. I had the best of intentions….”

When the boot is on the other foot, when we’re the one receiving the penalty for our wrongdoing it’s a different story. Rarely do we delight in justice. No, it’s mercy that we crave.

Mercy is a compassionate forbearance shown to an offender. It is a staying the hand of judgement, the withholding of consequences for those that have done wrong. We don’t deserve mercy, none of us. We deserve justice.

Mercy, it would seem, trumps justice. But there is another, higher card that can be played. The grace card.

Grace, an unmerited favour given not because of anything done to earn it, may even be shown in spite of what has been done. It is totally undeserved.

When faced with our own failings, the hand of grace lifts us up. It sets us upon our feet and urges us to try again. Willing us to win, grace is our champion.

This presents a conundrum: if mercy and grace are an undeserved withholding of punishment and a similarly unmerited display of favour, are they legal? How can mercy and justice coexist? If the guilty party is set free injustice prevails and the law is again violated.

The Bible, on one hand presents God as the Just Judge of all the earth, yet it likewise proclaims him both merciful and gracious. This is a contradiction. How can a God be both legal and illegal?

For mercy to be legal, justice must be done. When another party pays our fine the letter of the law is fulfilled and yet we receive mercy.

According to God’s law our transgressions mean we deserve the death penalty – eternal separation from God. But by his death, Jesus Christ the son of God, fulfilled the law of sin and death on our behalf. We have been shown mercy and it is completely legal.

The Apostle Paul urges Christian husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. It’s a love that shows both mercy and grace. It may be a tall order, but “what is impossible with men is possible with God”.

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