Can God be both Just and Merciful?

justiceIs God a God of justice? Or is He a God of mercy? Are those two things mutually exclusive? It seems that whichever direction we go with this, God is accused of doing wrong.

Many have claimed that the God of the Old Testament was mean, capricious, vindictive, petty, unjust and much, much more. This usually stems from passages having to do with the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cleansing of the Promised Land of other nations and tribes, etc.

People will refer to these parts of the Bible and claim that God is a horrible, mean, violent deity. So much so that some people will claim that, even if they were convinced that this God exists, they would not follow such a being. They simply don't like Him. They don't believe such a God exists, but hate Him anyway.

Fast forward to the 21st century. People will ask where God was when a madman gunned down innocent people in a movie theater or a school. While not publicized nationally, we probably all know someone who was affected by a person who was a victim of burglary or was killed by a drunk driver or was robbed and beaten or worse. During these times, you hear the question about how God could allow such pain and suffering in people's lives.

The problem with this is, one the one hand, when God does judge people for their deeds (Canaan, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) God should have been merciful. But when He is merciful (doesn't strike a mass murderer dead before he can harm someone), He should have exacted justice. Either way, God loses. It's a no-win scenario.

It seems to me, the way we should be approaching this is to recognize that God is a God of justice and that He is also a God of mercy. God must have justice (hence the sacrifice of His only Son to pay for the sins of Man...but that's another post, entirely). But God "...will have mercy on whom [He] will have mercy..." (Exodus 33:19b)

While we do not know or understand what God bases His mercy on, we know that it does not impede His justice because of the person and work of Christ. Because of what Jesus did, on our behalf, God can have mercy on whom He will have mercy and yet still have perfect justice so that no sin will ever go unpunished. Again, the Gospel is something we can go into another time as it is not the main thrust of this article.

To answer the initial question, then....Yes. God can be both just and merciful. We may not always understand it. We may not always recognize when He is exacting justice, so we should never assume that if some harm comes to someone that it is God's justice on them. But we should also remember that when people do horrible things to others, God will not allow those deeds to escape justice. As Paul writes in Romans 12:19, "'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord."

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