f The Wittenberg Door: Do God’s Mercy and Justice Contradict Each Other?

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Do God’s Mercy and Justice Contradict Each Other?

Q 11.Is not God then also merciful?

A. God is indeed merciful, but He is likewise just; His justice therefore requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of both of body and soul.

Heidelberg Catechism

God’s attributes do not contradict nor cancel out one another; rather, they act in concert with one another to accomplish God’s purposes and reflect His goodness. Let us then undertake to understand God’s justice and mercy and see how they relate to one another.


God’s wrath comes not from violent uncontrollable outbursts, like the anger of sinful man. God’s wrath is a manifestation of his holiness and righteousness. He cannot endure wickedness to continue unabated and unrequited. Justice requires that rebellion against his proper and good authority not only deserves, but demands recompense. For God not to punish sin would make Him unjust. A simple definition of justice is: actions require an equitable response proportionate to their nature. In other words, good deeds are rewarded, bad deeds are punished.

“...(God’s mercy) consists in this, that He prepares the ways and means whereby He might forgive sin without violating His justice”

Otto Theleman’s commentary on Q&A #10, An Aid to the Catechism

2 Chronicles 6:23; Ruth 2:11-12; Psalm 5:4-5; Jeremiah 32:18-19-19; Romans 1:18; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6; Hebrews 11:6


Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. Simple definitions of mercy and grace are as follows:

  • Grace - Receiving that which was not earned/deserved

  • Mercy - Not receiving that which was earned/deserved

Nehemiah 9:27-31; Psalm 103:8-10, 116:5; Lamentations 3:19-24; Luke 6:36; Ephesians 2:4-5

“. . . In respect of those to whom he shows mercy, Rom. 9:15, 16. He quotes that scripture to show God’s sovereignty in dispensing his favours (Exod. 33:19): I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men (are) plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace...while he passes by others. The expression is very emphatic, and the repetition makes it more so: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. It imports a perfect absoluteness in God’s will; he will do what he will, and giveth not account of any of his matters, nor is it fit he should. As these great words, I am that I am (Exod. 3:14) do abundantly express the absolute independency of his being, so these words, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, do as fully express the absolute prerogative and sovereignty of his will. To vindicate the righteousness of God, in showing mercy to whom he will, the apostle appeals to that which God himself had spoken, wherein he claims this sovereign power and liberty. God is a competent judge, even in his own case. Whatsoever God does, or is resolved to do, is both by the one and the other proved to be just. Eleeso on han hele—I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. When I begin, I will make an end. Therefore God’s mercy endures for ever, because the reason of it is fetched from within himself; therefore his gifts and callings are without repentance.

Henry’s commentary at Bible Gateway, under “resources”

--The Deacon



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