It is a topic we have discussed regularly. Without either of these items we know that something is wrong in the world. When we are wronged, we beg God for justice. He listens. Then, when we wrong someone, we beg for mercy. He listens.
How can He do both?
An age old question. Too much for the side of justice, we cry that He is an unforgiving God, which we know, He isn’t. Too much mercy, well then, He isn’t loving. It is my understanding that only God can truly walk the line of perfectly existing and delivering both Justice and Mercy.
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
Portia, The Merchant of Venice1
Jonah’s Lesson — Mercy
In the book of Jonah we see God’s character clearly. He is a merciful and forgiving God. In fact, Jonah is so aware of this fact, he refuses to deliver the message of repentance that leads to salvation for the Assyrians at Nineveh. (Jonah 4:2 HCSB)
What Jonah is not aware of at the time, is that justice will come. Why did God allow the Assyrians a brief existence of mercy? He tells us that he cares for His creation. (Jonah 4:10-11 ESV) I believe that, had the Assyrians existed in a state of repentance and dependence on God, they would have continued into a state of His blessings. However, that wasn’t to be the case.
Nahum’s Message — Justice
Fast forward 100+ years, and we find that the Assyrians in Nineveh haven’t lived in a state of repentance.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will certainly not allow the wicked to go unpunished.
He marches out in the whirlwind and the raging storm;
dark storm clouds billow like dust under his feet.
Nahum 1:3 NET
While it is obvious that God knew this was the course, I don’t believe that invalidates His intent for Mercy. Why allow it then? Because it was the right thing to do. It is His very nature.
These two prophets highlight different aspects of God’s character and nature. It is tempting to draw out a parallel between this and His plans for our individual salvations. But don’t do that. These were writings and prophecies for a particular time to a particular peoples. What we can gather is this: He is Merciful and Just.