Justice is what we want when others wrong us.
Mercy is what we want when we wrong others.
These two conflicting emotions create a personal dilemma. How can we really expect justice to be meted out to others for their wrong doings, but then hope we will receive mercy ourselves in the end? In order to be consistent we would have to want the same thing for everyone: either justice for all or mercy for all.
Judgment carries the idea of truth. Mercy communicates forgiveness. How can these two meet? Can they come together? What is the nexus between judgment and mercy, between grace and truth?
The Psalmist did not see these ideas as mutually exclusive. In the beautiful prose of Pslam 85 we read:
Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land.
Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
The Psalmist used the intimate metaphor of a kiss to illustrate the relationship between grace and truth. This Old Testament passage portrays the reality we see embodied in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
If there were no God there would be no way to bring together justice and mercy. If the moral law is really a product of evolutionary biology then the only higher court to appeal to is nature.
Without God there is not only a lack of a basis for morality, there is also no absolute standard to seek for forgiveness.
If God exists, but is not loving, then we could only expect judgment. In order for our desire for justice and our longing for mercy to be satisfied we need a transcendent and immanent God who provides a way for forgiveness. God must be both just and the justifier.
This is precisely how the Apostle Paul describes the Creator God in Romans 3:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Both the hopeful notion of justice and the hellish nature of fear find resolution in the holy nexus of God’s love. Our desire for justice to be enacted on wrong doers comes back to haunt us as we realize that we too are guilty.
Our longing for justice can only be realized in a righteous God who judges sin.
Our need for mercy can only be found in a loving God who offers forgiveness.
For judgment and mercy to meet, God would have to provide a substitute to atone for our wrongs.
That, to be clear, is precisely what he did.
The Psalmist was right, grace and truth have kissed.
The Word became flesh.