God’s Mercy and God’s Justice in 2023
By Rev. Gary Lewis Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to ask your mom and dad for permission to do something really special? The more outlandish the request, the more unlikely the prospect of approval, the more you knew that timing was everything. You knew you had to catch them in just the right mood and at just the right time of day. It always helped to do a few unexpected good deeds as well – make your bed, take out the trash, pick up your room and just generally be around and be good company. Only when all these signs were favorable would you dare broach the subject of the desired event or item. If something went wrong – dinner got burned or a bad day at work – forget it! You knew the answer ahead of time: Permission denied! Children may complain about having to follow house rules, but the truth is that it is reassuring to know just who is in charge. But besides needed a powerful image of someone in charge, we all count on that intangible, unpredictable quality of compassion. There are always good excuses, extenuating circumstances and forces beyond our control that merit special consideration. Even when we fall far outside the rules of the house, we hope for mitigating gentleness of compassion. As a New Year begins, we need to have the right focus to praise the qualities of both justice and mercy in our relationship with God Almighty. Justice and mercy are God’s expression of power and compassion. Yet these two qualities have often forced men and women of faith into awkward corners. If God is the God of Justice, then we may rest assured that the wicked are punished and the good are rewarded. On the other hand, the knowledge that all of us fall far short of the divine mandates for justice, for practicing justice in all our relationships with others, should make us plenty nervous about this God of justice. We all have “bad days” when we snipe and snap at family and friends for no reason; when we practice deceit; when we are unfair, cruel, even abusive. Are you having a good day or a bad day? We cannot consciously “butter up” God or get God in a “good mood” before we are called to judgment. We cannot pick the most likely day or time to die when we may appear most favorably in God’s eyes. If God is truly a God of perfect justice, then divine judgment is unswayable by all time and circumstance. That means we are all in a lot of trouble. That is why all believers have counted on the fact that God is a God with two natures. We demand a God of justice – but we all need a God of mercy. Even so, we are just self-centered enough to find the notion of a God who is merciful to those who truly deserve judgment a bit disturbing. We want God’s mercy for ourselves, but not necessarily for anybody else. Many believers have struggled to unite these two seemingly opposing characteristics that define God’s activity in the world. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves in a maze with no clear direction of which way to go. Is it justice we seek? Or is it mercy? The best way out of this maze of confusion over God’s two natures is to get in touch with the magnificent role creation plays in our understanding of God. Creation was a free divine act, the Bible declares, an expression of God’s grace. Therefore, as God acts to bring about the completion, the fulfillment of creation through all the twists and turns of life, all the actions God takes toward that end are likewise brought about through divine grace. Since all of creation exists because of God’s grace, God is not limited by the two choices of justice and mercy. Grace calls us and woos us, even when we are not aware of God. This is known as “prevenient” or preventing Grace. God extends the infinite capacity for divine mercy toward us. A God of mercy and justice is brought together. We were created by God for one primary purpose: blessedness. It is the amazing grace of God that leads us through every maze of life. For it is in the incarnation of the Logos, in Jesus Christ, that the creative power of God makes divine mercy available, at last, to all of creation. The question before us in 2023 is this: Are we living out of this gift of amazing grace? Or are we stuck in mazes of our own making? Are we extending God’s amazing grace to others, instruments of the grace that brings together God’s justice and mercy? Or are we hard hitters, law-abiding judgers who are nevertheless soft targets ourselves? In Philippians 2:15, the Apostle Paul said we are to “shine like stars in the world” in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation” – stars offering not justice, not mercy (it’s not ours to offer), but God’s gift of amazing grace.