Thomas Brooks once wrote, "Mercy is God's Alpha – Justice is His Omega."* What Brooks wrote is an astonishing concept to think about, but if we are not careful, we'll completely miss out on this rich truth, leading to a very deep misunderstanding of who God truly is. Far too often, our culture, churched or unchurched, hold the words "mercy" and "justice" in complete contrast. Some describe God as "merciful." Others describe Him as "just." Few describe God as both, or can't reconcile their relationship to each other.
This has led to many unfortunate circumstances that have spread mightily into our churches. Some congregations have turned the phrase "Come As You Are" into "Stay As You Are," while other church bodies proclaim, "Be Ashamed With Who You Are." Neither approach is right. Both instances are missing the true God – a God who is all-merciful, and all-just, all at once. In the same way two "opposites" readily unite in magnetics, so God's mercy and justice attract each other and bind together firmly. "Mercy is God's Alpha – Justice is His Omega." It is this fusion that forms the beautiful concept of grace, the powerful combination of perfect mercy and justice that glorifies God at every step.
This wasn't Brooks' idea of God, however. He, in typical Puritan fashion, simply made observations about the stories we were already reading about and (thought we) knew so well. To better understand God's grace, and to better understand how mercy and justice complement one another, we must turn to the Scriptures, and we must not fall into old traps and ways of thinking. Instead of dividing "Mercy" and "Justice" into two columns and setting one Biblical event in one column, we must put the entire Bible in each column. One of the most critical pieces of understanding the relationship between justice and mercy is to look at Genesis 3.
After the bliss of living in the presence of God's goodness and within the boundaries of His law in Genesis 2, the first human couple fell into utter darkness only seven short verses after. The crafty serpent used his devices of deception and pride to bring about a feeling never known by Adam or Eve before. Together, they chose themselves over God. They made His glory inferior to theirs through one bite of fruit, and ushered into the world and each human heart a violation of God's perfect universe. At the Garden of Eden that day, labor became hard, pain was promised, and death was sure (3:14-19). God had every right to assign such punishment. After all, His glory, the chief end of all things, was warmly defied in an act of selfishness.
That's where many of us stop in Genesis 3. But Genesis 3 doesn't stop there. In fact, the next two verses are some of the most remarkable verses in all of Scripture about the mercy of God.
"The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (3:20-21)
Two amazing acts of mercy happen here. Firstly, we observe that God simply allowed mankind to continue. When Eve took that bite of fruit, God knew what was coming. Eons of sinners would only follow their mother in her pattern of glory exchange. He isn't shocked by the state of today's affairs (It's hard to be shocked about anything when you exist outside of time). Nonetheless, God would've been perfectly just, and perfectly right to do away with humanity altogether. Letting Adam and Eve part with their lives, and even serving a purpose in life, was an act of mercy itself.
But then we see an even further act of mercy, one of which we oddly make little to no mention of in our churches today. The Creator, in a radical act of compassion, not only allowed His subjects to live, but also clothed them. God knit together materials to cover Adam and Eve with. But why would God do that? It was because they had realized their nakedness, and shame had already begun to arrest them. God didn't cover man because He was embarrassed at their nakedness, but because He wanted to provide a solution for their shame. He didn't get rid of the consequences, but He did clothe them.
This would all be remarkable if it ended there, but it doesn't, thankfully. God takes His justice and His mercy even further. In the greatest fusion of grace, God upheld His perfect justice by demanding payment, but also upheld His perfect mercy appointing another to pay the price. Like two babbling brooks funneling into one rushing stream, justice and mercy were unified forever at the cross. Payment was made, and shame was clothed.
The gospel is good news. The good news isn't simply that we all get to go to heaven and wear crowns. The good news isn't missing out on eternal torment. The good news isn't that we're smarter and more right than the world. The good news is that God took His justice and mercy both very seriously, and without compromising either, made them concurrent in the cosmos-altering act of grace at Golgotha. This grace gives guided purpose to the one who feels freed from the law, and clothes to the one who feel exposed by it.
Dear reader, do not wonder where God's mercy is, and do not dismiss His justice. God holds each of these pillars in the highest of regard. They are His Alpha and Omega. If He didn't take them so seriously, there would be no need for the cross. Don't minimize God's wonderful fusion of grace. Love, trust, and praise the impartial and compassionate King of Glory.