Justice Tempered By Mercy


Some of the recent facebook posts about law and grace reminds me of the story of the 80-year-old woman who was arrested for shoplifting. When she appeared in court, the Judge asked her, “What did you steal?”

“A can of peaches,” She replied.

When the Judge asked her why, she said that she was hungry. “How many peaches were in the can?” asked the Judge.


The Judge said, “Then I will give you six days in jail.”

Before the Judge could pronounce the sentence, the woman’s husband spoke up and asked if he could say something.

“What is it?” The Judge replied.

The husband said, “She also stole a can of peas.”

There is something about human nature that wants others to get what they deserve. To receive justice. However, we tend to feel that our mistakes, shortcomings and sins deserve a little mercy.

Justice and mercy. It’s hard to balance the two. Fortunately, God is not only a God of justice. The Psalmist refers to Jehovah as “The God of Mercy” (Ps 59:12). We often think of mercy as a New Testament virtue found in Christ, but the Old Testament writers speak of mercy 233 times. The prophets speak often of His mercy on Israel and Judah.

As John Stott wrote, “Mercy is compassion for people in need.” God’s mercy met the needs of people whether in offering salvation, or clemency. Isaiah proclaimed, “For the LORD has comforted His people, And will have mercy on His afflicted” (49:13).

Mercy identifies with the victim, empathizes with their plight and acts to do something about it. You see, mercy is more than just pity. It’s more than a feeling. And it’s not the same as grace. Mercy is compassion for people in need. Richard Lenski makes this distinction; “The noun (mercy) always deals with what we see of pain, misery and distress, that results of sin and (grace) always deals with the sin and guilt itself. The one extends relief, the other pardon; the one cures, heals, helps, and the other cleanses and reinstates.”

Jesus is called “the merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17). We see His mercy in restoring sight to the blind. Casting out demons. Curing lepers. Forgiving sins. He’s our perfect example of mercy.

Mercy reaches out to those who sin and need our encouragement. Paul exhorted the Corinthians, “When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’’t give up in despair.” 2 Cor. 2:7 (CEV)

We all need mercy. We sin and fall short of the mark. And since God offers us mercy, we should extend mercy to one another. Jesus said, “blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”

In the church family, it is important to show and share mercy. Rick Warren expressed it this way, “In real fellowship people experience mercy. Fellowship is a place of grace, where mistakes aren’t rubbed in but rubbed out. Fellowship happens when mercy wins over justice. You can’t have fellowship without forgiveness because bitterness and resentment always destroy fellowship.”

God’s mercy should motivate us to be merciful. When you are hurt you can either chose to retaliate or seek resolution. Mercy allows us to forgive. To let go of the past. To show compassion. And seek to restore trust and fellowship.

May our prayer be, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. And mold my heart to be merciful to others.”

—Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

1 Comment

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One response to “Justice Tempered By Mercy

  1. John Witt

    Christians fail to appreciate “justification” because they fail to realize “sin causes separation”.


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