Is Mercy Ultimately a Form of Injustice?

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  • June 25, 2009

Are you a fan of philosophy? Apologetics? Riddles? Then I would love to hear you weigh in on this one. I could use your help.

Last night, we had Doubt Night at Starbucks. We talked about Keller’s fifth chapter, How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell? In making the point that God can be both full of love and full of wrath, both a God of mercy and a God of judgment, and that love will actually necessitate wrath/judgment/justice (for which loving person can see injustice and not rightfully be angry and demand justice?), one of the participants posed an interesting argument.

He said that if God is just, completely just, just through and through, then the substitutionary death of Jesus in the place of guilty sinners is actually injustice. His argument was that justice demands that the guilty be punished. If God were to be completely just, then every human being should go to Hell. By sending Jesus, my friend felt that God was bending the rules (which he is happy to concede that God is allowed to do) or was working from a different definition of justice than the one we know.

I told him that I agreed that were God to be just towards human beings, they should go to Hell. However God chose to show mercy in sending Jesus, and mercy is not the same thing as injustice. I used the illustration below (adapted from R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God).


Essentially you have justice and non-justice (everything that is the opposite of justice). With justice goes judgment. But within non-justice, you have two sub-categories: mercy and injustice. For example, say I were driving down the road beyond the speed limit and a cop pulled me over and wrote me a ticket that I could not afford. There are three things that could happen.

a. Justice would mean that I get judgment. I get brought to court and punished for my crime.

b. Injustice would mean that cop lets me drive away with no consequences since he has no regard for the law.

c. Mercy is different. Mercy is the friend sitting in the passenger seat next to me who pays for my crime. Or better, mercy is the cop himself paying the ticket for me. That is not injustice; that is mercy. The law has been satisfied – only not by me, but by one who in mercy took my place.

My example may have been poor and not everyone was not satisfied. For my friend, mercy was ultimately a form of injustice. In fact, he would go far enough to define every act of mercy, however good it may be, a form of injustice. Absolute justice necessitates that the guilty pay for their crime. No exceptions. He called mercy a loophole. Granted, he said that he completely wanted to live in that kind of a world. He was all for the idea of mercy, and being merciful, and even would want a God who was merciful – but felt that mercy was essentially injustice. He said, after all, what if every murderer and rapist found someone willing to take their place – would that be satisfactory?

So, I guess my question is, is he right? Is there room for mercy in absolute justice? Can God be absolutely just and yet be merciful?

What am I missing here?

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road.

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