Act Justly, Love Mercy – a contradiction?

Over the past couple of months, both NightChurch and morning church have been investigating three Old Testament prophets; Jonah, Daniel and Micah. While all three prophets are fairly well known, Micah has the privilege of containing one of the most well-known verses in all of Scripture; Micah 6:8 –

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the
Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This helpful and concise summary of what God seeks from his people is compared to the people’s desire to bring offerings and sacrifices before the Lord, and has been made particularly famous by the Micah Challenge. One thing that I both love and find challenging in this verse, however, is the combination of “act justly” and “love mercy” in the same line. To act justly means to ensure justice is done, that people get what they deserve, and that everyone is treated fairly. To love mercy is approximately the opposite! It means withholding judgement, giving people what they don’t deserve when they are guilty, and providing special and even preferential treatment.

How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? How can we both act justly and also love mercy?

Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of this came just last week in the wake of the shooting at the Emanuel Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Dylann Roof has been charged with the murder of nine church-goers, and if he is found to be guilty, he will certainly receive justice for his crimes. At the same time, despite their grief, family members of the victims have extended forgiveness to the accused man, seeking God’s mercy for him. The daughter of one victim said: “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” The sister of another victim stated honestly: “I acknowledge that I am very angry, but one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”

As these faithful relatives simultaneously sought justice and mercy for the accused man, they were reflecting the desire for both justice and mercy that God shows us. Romans 3:25-26 states: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” At the cross, God acts justly in dealing with sins through the death of his son Jesus. At the same time, God shows his mercy by forgiving us, and making us right with him. May we, like the brave relatives in Charleston, reflect both the justice and mercy of God in our lives.

Paul Pallot

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