Merciful and Just God
Post date: Sep 11, 2014 4:46:50 PM
How can God be all Just and all Merciful?
In the debate "Does God Exist?" between Phil Fernandes and Dan Barker, Dan Barker poses the question of how God can be all just and all merciful at the same time. Barker defines just as punishing according to the crime and mercy as not bringing consequences that fit the action.
I'd like to take a moment to address this comment and provide some thoughts.
In the Bible, God is referred to as a God of justice. In many times, God states that He will punish a people for their sins. In Amos, some passages that start with the phrase ""For three sins of (whoever), even for four, I will not relent."" God is providing judgement upon those people groups for their sins.
So, that's great and everything, but what about today? We see Hitler, Stalin, and other men at the top of mass genocides. Why were they allowed to live full lives and not be punished?
God's ultimate judgement comes in the form of hell. Jesus speaks more on hell than anyone else in the Bible. In Matthew 23:14, Jesus speaks of a greater level of judgement that will come upon the Pharisees. He indicates that the punishment for their deeds will be worse than others because of their position. This indicates that there are different levels of judgement. So, a person who simply didn't believe but lived a moral life may not be punished as harshly as a Hitler or Stalin.
Humans are generality humanity-centric. People believe that their morality is all they need to get through life. "Do no harm" is the slogan of many atheists. The problem with this humanity-centric ideal is that it neglects God's commandment to love God first. Humans who ignore or do not obey this commandment condemn their selves to punishment. This is God's judgement.
God, Himself, not only died for our sins, but gave us himself as atonement for our sins. This is God's mercy. God sent His only Son, Jesus the Christ, to die as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of all humankind. This is foolishness according to the non-believers (1 Cor 1:23). To the Jews (who had messianic prophecies), it's hard to fathom. Why would God come down from heaven as a flesh and blood human and choose to die for humanity?
This goes back to the justice of God. The condition of humanity is that Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, thus separating humanity from God. Just as an alcoholic parent has children who struggle with alcoholism, so do parents living in sin have children who struggle with sin. Thus, no human could ever live a holy life as required by God.
Now that humans are without holiness, God is separated from His creation. God could either:
A) Destroy Humanity
B) Provide a way of reconciliation
Consider now that God is a god of justice. The penalty for disobedience is death. In the Old Testament, God set up a sacrificial system, where the sacrifice would be the substitution for punishment. Instead of the human dying and going straight to hell, they could sacrifice a lamb, dove, or other creature as according to the Levitical code. This sacrificial system was permeated throughout the Jewish culture for 3 millennium. This was never meant to be the end goal. These sacrifices pointed to the need of a substitutionary atonement that would take place.
It wasn't until about year 0 when God sent His Son to earth as a human. We know Him as Jesus, but in the Old Testament, they knew him as YWHW (Yahwey/Jehovah). Here is the mercy of God at work as His son, Jesus, comes down from Heaven and lives as a human. Jesus preached to bring people closer to God. In the end, Jesus lived a life without sin. He obeyed all the laws set forth in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Old Testament) while giving glory to God and providing clarity as to the meaning of the laws.
Jesus was eventually killed. This was prophesied to Adam and Eve as well as Abraham. Jesus did not sin... after all, how can God sin against Himself? Sin (by definition) is falling short of God. When a person fails to live up to the standards God has set, they are living in sin. So, how can Jesus (who is God) fail to live up to His own standards? Especially since, God is the most consistent being ever to exist.
The mercy comes here at the cross. Jesus allowed His death to stand as an atonement for the sins of all of humanity. By this, Jesus mercifully restored the connection between humanity and God. Now, humanity has a way to be with God in heaven. No eternal damnation for you (who believe)!
The mercy of God is very misunderstood because people can't see it. All of us will fail to see heaven until after we die to this earth. So, if I was to tell you that you were going to get to ride a real dinosaur tomorrow, could you today explain what that experience is like? In the same manner, the concept of heaven and experiencing God's eternal mercy is impossible for us to explain. We can speculate, but we can't speak with authority on the subject.
When we say that God is a God of Justice and Mercy, we're acknowledging both the Heaven and Hell dynamic of God's judgement. All humanity deserves hell. All humanity has wronged at least one person. All humanity has failed to live up to God's standards. But, all humanity has a savior in Christ Jesus.