One of my favorite books/musicals is Les Miserables (book written by Victor Hugo). It tells the story of Jean Valjean, a convict who breaks parole. A kind bishop changes Valjean’s heart forever by saving him from the police, giving him all his precious silver and telling him to become an honest man. Valjean goes on to show this same mercy to others who have had justice turn against them. Meanwhile Inspector Javert spends every waking hour hunting down the ex-criminal, hoping to bring him back to justice. M. Hugo raises one question throughout the entire story: justice or mercy?
Les Miserables. A lovely story, certainly, but why bring it up on this blog? Because every day during my Bible reading time I have been finding God’s answer to Hugo’s question. I’ve been reading the Old Testament prophets. For example, read Jeremiah 49.
“…But I have stripped Esau bare; I have uncovered his hiding places, and he is not able to conceal himself. His children are destroyed, and his brothers, and his neighbors; and he is no more. Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.” (Jeremiah 49:10-11 ESV)
Did you catch it? God (through Jeremiah) is detailing the complete ruin of many nations. Judah, Moab, Babylon, Edom… the list could go on.
Let’s look first at justice. God is indeed a judge, the Righteous Judge. Too many people in today’s comfy modern world forget that. Take Isaiah 26:9 and Isaiah 59:19-20 for two examples. Backstory: Israel has sinned… a lot. Now God is giving them their due punishment. We learn from these verses that whenever God judges the earth, people learn a thing or two about righteousness. God promises that people all over the world from east to west will fear His name and His glory. Read the predictions given in the prophecies. All this destruction, if made into a movie, could earn a solid PG-13 rating. That is God’s righteous wrath. Justice.
What about mercy, then? It’s there, too. In the midst of all this, God promises to protect widows and orphans who trust him to save them. Yes, He will punish all the evil as he warned them, but He also keeps alive fatherless children and lets the widows rely on Him. That is God’s compassion. Mercy.
So there you go, M. Hugo; your question is answered. Justice and mercy. God has shown us the perfect blend. Both are important to Him, but so often, even in the midst of His just wrath, God gives us mercy.