Collision: Justice and Mercy
I head off on a mission trip in 2 days, and I was asked to prepare a testimony for it. I’ve done standard testimonies about my conversion to following Jesus a number of times, so I thought I’d take a bit of a different route this time.
Here’s a first draft. Obviously, it’s written simply - I’m not 100& sure of the audience yet, but I presume they’ll be pretty new to the ideas and truths of Christianity.
What do you want justice for? By that, I mean, what do you see – or have you seen – that is just so obviously so wrong that you desperately want to see made right? Is it a way that someone has mistreated you - or someone you know - in the past? Is it atrocities committed in war? Is it that some people have more money than they could ever need while other people starve? The world is full of terrible mistreatments of people by other people, and I think it’s natural to want justice to be done; for things to be made right.
That’s what I’ve always found, anyway; I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think that justice was really important. The way that my parents raised me, I was punished when I wronged them or one of my sisters, and even though I hated it, I knew it was fair, and when one of my sisters wronged, I wanted to make sure that they were punished too. I wanted everything to be fair as a kid, whether it was making sure that my sisters and I had the same amount of a snack or drink, or making sure that everyone got the same number of turns at choosing something. Later, I started to become aware of how things weren’t fair in the world; there were people who didn’t have enough food to eat, people were victims of crimes, and my keen interest in history taught me about many horrible things done to different groups of people by other people - even my own country had a history of mistreating its first peoples. Even from a young age, I wanted to see these wrongs made right, and I rarely turned down a chance to fundraise for those poorer than myself, or to support a cause. I came to love different superheroes too – Batman, Spiderman, Superman – and I loved the idea of these masked figures secretly making the world a more just place. My interest in justice was far from being always noble, however; on the hockey field, I became increasingly frustrated when it seemed to me that the umpiring wasn’t fair, and I began to voice those frustrations to the umpires, or even take the law into my own hands with a bit of ‘hip and shoulder.’ Perhaps it was just my youthful anger, but my mother always described it as being a product of this keen passion for justice that I had. As time continued on, my interest in history flourished, and I despised the leaders of movements that harmed great numbers of seemingly innocent people, or leaders who appeared indifferent to the suffering of others. Similarly, I adopted as heroes leaders and individuals who stood up to those other leaders, who opposed oppression, or who sought to aid those in need, and quotations of things they had said – for instance, “If an idea is worth fighting for, no matter the penalty, fight for the right, and truth and justice will prevail” – were adopted as my mantras.
Something about my longstanding interest in justice changed when I came to know more about one of those figures who appeared to be just another hero of justice. I’d always known about Jesus - my parents were Christians and taught me about him throughout my childhood – and I liked Jesus too; after all, what’s not to like about a man who healed the sick, embodied compassion, and even died for the good of others? My understanding of Jesus, however, was shallow at best. I’d always been told that Jesus died to save me from my sin, but what does that mean? ‘Sin,’ to me was just some word that Christians used that didn’t mean much to me, or I thought it to just mean naughty things I did like lying to my parents. Even then, I thought I was pretty safe, because I was pretty good, and I definitely did more good things than bad things.
That’s not what the Bible teaches, however; the Bible teaches that God deserves our complete devotion and obedience, because He created everything, and so is the King of everyone. It teaches that everyone has failed to do that; in fact, everyone has rebelled against God, because we didn’t want God to be our King – we want to be our own King, to be in charge of our own lives. I was as guilty of this as anyone else. The Bible says it like this: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside.” On top of this, it turned out that God was even more passionate about justice than I was. I wanted everything to be made right on the small scale of the things I could see, but God was going to make everything right in the whole universe, and that was going to include punishing rebels like me, and the punishment for rebelling against God is death. As the Bible says, “it is appointed for people to die once, and after that comes judgement.” I had always thought that I was a good person who even fought for justice, but the reality was that when real justice – God’s justice - came, I was in big trouble.
When I looked at the wrong that other people did, I wanted justice to be done, but when I looked at the wrong that I did, I wanted mercy instead of justice.
When it comes to me and God then, there’s a bit of a problem. You see, if God shows his justice, and doesn’t show me mercy, then I’m in big trouble. If, however, God just mercifully forgives me, without punishing the wrong I’ve done, then God isn’t just, and all the wrong in the world will never be made right. It looks pretty hopeless.
That brings us back to Jesus. Jesus was God, but he came to Earth as a person, to die, to take the punishment for all the wrong that you, I and anyone else has done – to take the punishment for our rebellion against God. The justice of God is satisfied because Jesus was punished in my place, and the mercy of God is shown in that because God took the punishment upon himself in Jesus, I can be forgiven – my rebellion has already been paid for, and I can be forgiven.
In Jesus, I found my desire for justice satisfied, and I found much more. I also found the mercy that I desperately needed. I found a new family of Christians to be a part of, and I could know God. I found meaning, purpose and belonging in life. I also found that God would not just adopt me into his family, but also change me, so that over time I would less and less resemble a rebel, and more and more resemble a member of God’s family. My desire for justice was changed too – knowing that Jesus has paid the punishment for all of our rebellion means that instead of wanting revenge on people who did wrong (especially seeing as I now knew that I was one of them), I wanted to see things made right, and I knew that the best way for that to happen was through Jesus.
That’s one of the great hopes of Christianity. One day, Jesus will return to judge the world. Those who have continued to rebel against God will be punished for their continued rebellion, and excluded from what is to come. Those that believe and put their trust in Jesus, and turn from their rebellion, will be declared to be right because of what Jesus has done for them. When Jesus has judged the world, he will make all things new, and perfectly right forever. The last book of the Bible says it like this: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne [that is, Jesus] said, “Behold, I am making all things new.””
What was it that you really wanted justice for? Well, whatever it is, Jesus has paid for it, and it won’t be in his new creation. I think that is such an incredible thing to look forward to; a future completely rid of any injustice or pain, and instead to live perfectly with God. Perhaps, if you look at Jesus, and if you look at yourself, you’ll find what I did; that even though you’d thought of yourself as pretty good, you can’t match up to God’s standards, because you’ve rebelled against him and tried to do things your own way. If that’s you (which I’m guessing it is – it’s everyone), then I hope you consider Jesus and what he’s done, and join me in turning from rebellion, accepting the good justice and mercy of Jesus, and looking forward to when Jesus makes everything new and right.