To understand justice and mercy in their true essence one must first consider their source. They are not abstract concepts, but attributes of God. Therefore in contemplating the nature of justice and mercy, it is necessary to look to God and how He is both Just and Merciful.
God’s attributes are not parts of Him, they are each the whole of Him. He is all His attributes at all times. He is one, thus His attributes are one. We speak of them individually, but we err when we extract one without reference to the others. For instance, God is just and He is merciful. He does not choose to be merciful in one situation and just in another; He is equally just and merciful in every situation. To us, we might see His response as more of an act of justice rather than mercy, but in reality, it is just as merciful as it is just. This is why King David when given a choice between being punished by being given to His enemies or being punished by God, chose God for he knew that God’s punishment would be exactly right, good, and merciful.
Righteousness and Justice
Psalm 89:14 says that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne. In the same way, our actions ought to be that which lines up with His goodness. Therefore, when our mercy does not include justice or our justice is not constrained by mercy then we are not in line with what is good. God is also love. Love is not unrestrained mercy. In fact, justice and mercy are not at odds with each other or with love. Perfect love is perfectly just and merciful at the same time for God is all of these attributes eternally. They all are anchored together in Him as one.
Any of these attributes lived out apart from the rest would be harmful and not a true representation of the attribute. Love without justice is not real love. Justice without mercy is not really just. Mercy without justice is not really being merciful. True love is not just a balance of justice and mercy but is a full composite of both for the two cannot be rightly separated. It is written in Zechariah 7:9 “this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” Therefore, true justice is merciful and compassionate.
People who are recipients of constant mercy devoid of justice are not helped but hindered from attaining personal responsibility. They cannot mature into the people they ought to be if they are saved from every just consequence of their choices. However, it is human nature for us to not see the goodness of justice for Proverbs 21:15 says that “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Moreover in Proverbs 28:9 says that “evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.”
Justice is never to be issued apart from mercy, nor mercy apart from justice.
The two separated create Pharisees, people intent upon the letter of the law without any understanding of the purpose of the law. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. “
The only way to properly walk in justice and mercy is to be in a relationship with God, for He is the only true source of this righteousness. When God’s righteousness is inside of us, because He lives inside of us, we can walk in true justice and mercy via our relationship with Him. Otherwise, we are like the Pharisees who try to adhere to an external law without any understanding of righteousness, or we are like the person bent on mercy without any understanding of justice. Let us live from that place of God in us and we will live out justice and mercy in good measure.