Not from a theological point of view but on a more personal, emotional level? If you found out today that God in His kindness and grace is allowing everyone into His presence and that no one will be suffering an eternity of darkness, what would the look be on your face? Would it be a grin, would it be a scowl, would it be a cheek to cheek smile, or would it be filled with rage?
Now, before you start to throw stones, this isn’t my theological position. I do believe that heaven and hell are real and that apart from accepting the forgiveness and grace that Jesus offers, Hell isn’t a bluff but a just consequence of our rejection of Christ and our sin. So why ask this question?
A few weeks ago I preached from Psalm 10 and David’s cry for justice as he watches the poor and disadvantaged being take advantage of by those with means, who he refers to as the “wicked.” I don’t think it’s going to blow any minds to suggest that justice is the hottest topic in our society right now and the span of issues is broad. Whether it’s immigration, sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, environmental or socioeconomic issues, sexual abuse, or racial discrimination, the conversation is all around us and like an ever growing wave, isn’t slowing down or going anywhere.
In all of the heated tension, back and forth arguing, and emotional (often rightly so) upheaval and expression, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and step into a role that was never intended for you or me. A role that’s weight would crush us because we don’t have the backs to carry it. Let me just get straight to the point; beware of standing up for justice but sitting silent on mercy.
When I asked the original question at the start, if the look on your face was a scowl, a smirk, frustration or outright anger, the balance of justice and mercy in your heart might be a little (or a lot) lopsided. No, this isn’t to say we need to go silent on justice. In fact, one of the greatest critiques of the church today (especially those of a more Caucasian variety...just being honest) is that we are far more outspoken on morality and the consequences when it’s lacking and far more silent when it comes to issues of justice. Let me make this clear, we should be the biggest proponents of justice! Jesus sure was. He cared more about the poor and oppressed than anyone else who has ever stepped foot on this earth and we should follow suit. But when it comes to Jesus, just as important as justice is mercy.
The most important role we have when it comes to justice isn’t to make sure the oppressor “get’s what they deserve” but to stand up for and in with the oppressed
As the once “wicked” ourselves who were sitting in the judgement seat ready to be prosecuted for our crimes and sentenced to death until Jesus stepped in, we should more than anyone understand the power and importance of mercy. None us us deserved forgiveness, none of us deserved grace, none of us deserve the love and kindness God showers down on us each and every day. This ever necessary reality check should move us, not toward vengeance but mercy. And therein lies the tension. It’s easier than we want to admit to get swept up in the pursuit of justice just to see that right pursuit turn to a heart of vengeance. Where we are shouting with the cultural crowd for people to get what they deserve, pay the price, and ultimately for their destruction. Yeah, it’s not hard to get there which is why in the societal tension that surrounds us we need to realign. We need to be the most outspoken people and churches on the earth when it comes to justice and also the most outspoken when it comes to mercy. We need to be a people that spend just as much time praying for the heart and salvation of the oppressor as we do standing up for and with the oppressed. Easy, no. Necessary, yes. Because this is the heart of Jesus; a God of justice and mercy (Micah 6:8) who promises that every evil deed will be accounted for (Romans 14:12) and reminds us that vengeance is His (Romans 12:19), not ours. This is where the gospel leads us and as a somewhat unpopular reminder; seeking justice is not the gospel, it’s the fruit that comes from the root of the gospel grounded on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Because this is true and we are gospel people, the most important role we have when it comes to justice isn’t to make sure the oppressor “get’s what they deserve” but to stand up for and in with the oppressed; to show tangible mercy, compassion, and love to the hurting and confused and pray for God’s mercy on the heart of the oppressed and oppressor. A God of justice. A God of mercy. A God who isn’t okay with or letting any evil deed slip by but also a God who smiles from cheek to cheek when even the most wayward heart comes home.
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