A God of Love and Justice

Posted: March 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

Steering between ditches.

Swinging the pendulum.

Balancing your views.

Allowing for nuance.

These are all ways you could describe the attempt to hold seemingly contradictory truths in correct tension. That is, there are certain truth claims that seem to contradict another set of truth claims. In some instances a contradiction may indeed exist. Yet, at other times the seemingly contradictory truth claims are both true. It simply takes a bit of time to think carefully about the issue to see how they fit together.

The Bible presents us with truth claims that are sometimes difficult to square. In those instances we must think carefully and steer between the ditches. In our attempt to hold views in tension we must be careful not to swing the pendulum too far in one direction or the other. The truth claims must be balanced. And these things are often accomplished by allowing for nuance.

A case in point is the idea that the God of the Bible is both a loving God and a just God. He is both merciful and wrathful. He forgives and he judges. As Jeremiah states, the Lord “practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth (Jer. 9:24). Indeed, he delights in these things! The same God who forgives the repentant sinner (Neh. 9:17) casts the unrepentant into outer darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13).

Does the Bible really present God in this way? If so, how do these ideas fit together to give us a coherent picture of our great God?

The God of Love

John writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The idea that God is love is readily acknowledged and enthusiastically embraced. We love this God who loves us while we are yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). We bank our hope on his love for us.

This love of God has spilled over to the benefit of the world. The Father so loved the world that he sends his only Son to die in order that those who believe in him would not perish but live forever (John 3:16). This is amazing love. It is love that does what is best for God’s people. It is an unfailing and unstoppable love.

However, this love does not mean that God lacks anger, or is unconcerned with the exercise of justice, or will fail to pour out his wrath. The idea that God is love does not mean that sin is un-offensive to God or that he is unwilling to judge the wicked. While he is love, he also exercises justice.

The God of Justice

God is just and upright. He does what is right and exercises justice (Deut. 32:4; Jer. 9:24). The idea is clear when Moses writes, “the LORD…will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7). Indeed, “the LORD your God [is] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate [him]…” (Deu. 5:9).

To be clear, we must note that the NT does not present a different picture. Jesus speaks of a day of wrath when the wicked will be cast into eternal fire (Matt. 25:41). And Paul speaks of the day when God’s “righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5).

Examples could abound. What is mentioned already should suffice to show God is love and he delights in exercising judgment.

Love and Justice, A Contradiction? 

The question is obvious. Is the Bible offering two competing, and thus contradictory views, of God?

This isn’t a new question. Various attempts to explain the dilemma have been offered. Marcion, an important figure in Church History, tried to separate the God of Israel in the OT from the all-forgiving God of the NT. Others try to mute the idea that sin offends God (see The Shack for an example).

There are better ways to understand the issue. We do not have to see two different gods at work. And we need not explain away the offensiveness of sin.

The God of Love and Justice

First, we can hold the two together by realizing that exercising justice is not unloving. Who could rightly call a judge unloving for sentencing a convicted criminal to prison? The judge who faithfully fulfills his duty is not unloving. He is a good judge.

The whole human race stands before God as those who have committed cosmic treason. We are guilty and will not be cleared (Ex. 34:7).

Why? Because God is a good judge. He does what is right. He upholds justice.

Second, the exercise of justice at the cross, as God pours out his wrath on Jesus, is the greatest act of love imaginable. God’s commitment to justice does not allow for the sweeping of sin under the rug. But God’s commitment to love moves him to send his Son to die in the place of sinners. At the cross, love and justice meet.

John Piper writes, “If God were not just, there would be no demand for his Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for his Son to suffer and die. But God is both just and loving. Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of his justice” (Piper, Fifty Reasons, 20).

The clearest picture of how God can be both just and loving is seen at the cross of Jesus Christ.

God does not clear the guilty. But he does provide a substitute. And when this substitute goes to the cross, the love and justice of God are put on display.

That, dear friend, is the gospel.

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