Justice Must Be Tempered With Compassion
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Many people have said the following:
“I can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell.”
What many people fail to realize is that God doesn’t sent them to hell; they send themselves to hell. God does not arbitrarily point His finger and say, “OK, I’m going to send him and her and her and him to hell.” Rather, God says the following:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
It would appear that God desires everyone to be saved from their Adam-inherited sinful, rebellious nature. God is patient and seeks people for a long time. We are told that should we hear His call, we should respond while He is near. God has made Himself known to us, so that no one is without an excuse:
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
So it would appear that:
- God is compassionate
- God is a just judge
This brings up an interesting dilemma: How can a perfect God, who is full of mercy and grace, be a God full of perfect justice as well?
We often impose our own moral values on situations, rather than look at them through the lens of God’s perspective. Love cannot be merciful, graceful, and compassionate without being just:
- Compassion without justice is anarchy
- Without application of punishment for wrongdoing, we are effectively endorsing the person’s wrongdoing, and enabling them to repeatedly inflict harm upon others.
- Without punishment, there is no recourse for the protection of law-abiding people from the wickedness of the evil people who disregard the law
- Justice without compassion is emotionally void and cruel
- There are appropriate penalties for wrongdoing based on the severity of the wrongdoing. Actions have consequences. We wouldn’t take a person’s life for a misdemeanor. Nor should we give a slap on the wrist to someone who purposefully extinguishes the lives of others.
- In each case, the severity of the transgression should be met with appropriate consequences.
Let’s define our words so that we understand what we are talking about:
- Justice is the situation where the penalty for breaking the law has an appropriate disciplinary action based on the severity and type of crime committed.
- Mercy is not getting what you justly deserve
- Grace is getting a favor or blessing that was not earned (not based on merit)
- Compassion is a deep sympathy or sorrow for someone who is in pain or suffering, with a strong desire to alleviate the pain and/or suffering
- Holiness is the act of being set apart from ANY wrongdoing and set apart to complete and total righteousness (the inability to do anything wrong, and do everything right). With the absence of wrongdoing, holiness is considered PERFECTION.
In order for Justice to be perfect, it must be tempered with compassion, mercy, and grace. Otherwise, we have the knee-jerk reaction of the emotionless dictator who yells, “Off with his head!” to even the most trivial perceived rebellion.
Since God is holy (and thus perfect), any rebellion of any nature must be punished appropriately. The level of the rebellion must be met with the correct level of punishment. God is infinitely holy and perfect, so any rebellion, no matter how small, needs to be dealt with justly. The only just way to deal with rebellion, when perfection is the standard, is to remove the person from the population (through incarceration) so that they won’t harm anyone else. Every country in the world has laws to protect its people from the evil of others.
So, why should we hold God to a lower standard? People want God to just accept them as they are (which He does) and to not expect them to change. This is the equivalent of a murdering cannibal going before a judge and saying, “You are an intolerant, racist bigot. Just because I kill and eat people, you would deny me my freedom to be with other people? How dare you! I shouldn’t have to change to conform to your perverted sense of reality, judge! My view of life is the correct one! You must conform to my views! You have no right to ‘judge’ me! I demand that you immediately drop all charges, and I will be suing you for wrongful arrest and harassment! You will see me in court!”
(Hopefully) No one would ever agree with that position. Yet, when we say, “I can’t believe that God would judge me because I (fill in the blank), are we not doing the same exact thing? Are we not saying that our morality and ethics are of a higher, more pure, more righteous, and more perfect nature than that of God?
God, recognizing that we have a sinful nature, has shown us compassion in His infinite wisdom. He gave us an opportunity to be reformed and rejoined back to Him in relationship from isolation by sin. God sent His One and Only Son, who never sinned, to die upon the cross to be a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us. In this, he has shown:
- Compassion – God wants to alleviate our pain and suffering by giving us the opportunity to repent
- Mercy – When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we are no longer going to get the punishment that we rightly deserve
- Grace – God didn’t have to provide a way – He is perfectly justified in sending the whole lot of humans to permanent incarceration within His holding cell – the Lake of Fire. Instead, He gave us unmerited favor through the sinless shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, as an atonement (payment for wrongdoing) for our sinful rebellion against Him.
God has shown that He, and only He, has the perfect balance between Justice and Compassion.
Jesus paid our fine. But who would consider a person “rehabilitated” if they refused to acknowledge that their actions were wrong by willfully continuing to do the same things over and over again without any regret or attempt to rectify the behavior? God loves us just as we are, but He loves us too much to allow us to stay where we are.
With reprieve comes the implicit understanding that the actions that led to the crime would not continue. God calls this process sanctification. We are being transformed from desiring evil and acting upon those desires into desiring righteousness and acting upon these new desires. Even people who aren’t able to control themselves (the mentally ill) are placed away from the ability to do harm when they are unable to change.
Our perception of God’s justice is marred by our sinful nature. It is only when we see Him through the lens of Truth and Perfection that we can better understand and begin to grasp the wisdom, balance, and perfection that He displays when He operates in our lives. We can no sooner fault God for injustice as we can exonerate ourselves from law by merely saying we don’t agree with the law.
While the laws of men may be (and often are) flawed, the laws of God are perfect. They will withstand any criticism with one exception: those who are unable to critically think, and instead think with their emotions as it best serves them and their own desires – always at the price of others. It is the self-serving that so piously and loudly denounce ethics and morality as unjust, antiquated, mean-spirited, racist, uncaring, and intolerant. And the last is true: Morality is intolerant of immorality (and, therefore, evil). That is exactly why we have laws…
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: Are we of the mindset that our morality is superior to that of God?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, I thank You that You are holy and just. Help me to see past my own faults to gaze at Your glorious face, and see how far short of Your glory I fall. Help me to remember that You and You alone are able to see without impaired judgement, as You and You alone are holy. Help me to shed any and all attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs that do not conform to Your holy revelation of truth in Your Word. Guide me in all that I think, say and do, that I would see everything through Your perfect eyes and perspective. This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?