I don’t see anywhere in the teachings of Jesus a statement that we will be judged by the degree to which we have achieved justice for the wrongs that have been done to us. God is just. In fact, he is perfectly just, but He didn’t leave us any instruction to that effect.
We may think of God’s justice in the context of an eye for an eye.[A] Where there is a wrong, perfect justice requires recompense. We don’t feel this any more keenly than when we have been wronged ourselves by others.
But there is a flip side to God’s justice. The flip side of God’s justice is God’s mercy, and God desires mercy more than God desires justice.[B] God desires to extend relationship to people rather than assign punishment. Our own relationship to God also can be measured by the quality of our relationships with others, to the extent it is in our control.
God’s desire for relationship with us is mirrored in His desire for us to have relationship with each other. This concept is captured in the second greatest commandment: that we should love our neighbors as ourselves.[C]
In fact, the second greatest commandment is intimately related to the greatest commandment (to love God). The linkage between our relationship with others and our relationship with God is evidenced in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray – “forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors”.[D] And, in case we might not understand, Jesus added:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”[E]
When Peter asked Jesus, “How many times must I forgive? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, seventy times seven!”[F]
We might be tempted to turn Jesus’ answer into a mathematical calculation, but that isn’t the point! If God forgives as we forgive others, do we want his forgiveness to be limited?
A precise, mathematical formula would be justice, but mercy keeps no record of wrongs. Forgiveness is not a mathematical calculation.
When we are on the wrong side of injustice, we feel it personally and deeply. I dare say that we are more sensitive to injustice done to us then we are to injustice done to others. It’s “human nature”. But, God’s nature is to forgive us freely and completely and as often as we need it…. Unless, of course, we would rather have His justice!
To put this all another way, as we judge others, so shall we be judged, and the measure of justice (or mercy) we use for others will be measured to us.[G] Whether we measure out mercy or justice, it will be measured to us.
David said in Psalm 51, when he was painfully convicted of his own sin, “against God only have I sinned”.[H] We understand David’s cry completely when it comes to our own sin. But we often fail to understand the import of those words when it comes to the sins of others.
The prophet Hosea said of Israel that “they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind”.[I] This is the nature of sin: my sin doesn’t just affect me. That is a great lie of Satan: “I am only hurting myself”. When we sin, we not only affect ourselves, we affect others around us in ways that we don’t often know or appreciate.
We feel the weight of another’s sin when it affects us, but we don’t often recognize the weight of our sin or its effect on others in the same way. In the end, however even the sins of others that affect us are only sins against God.
Jesus doesn’t tell us that we will be judged by the degree to which we have ensured justice against those who have wronged us. Vengeance is God’s. God is the exacter of justice, but He is also the giver of mercy.
Thank our heavenly Father that He desires mercy more than He desires justice!
Yes, vengeance is God’s, and God is perfectly just, but we want God’s mercy, not His justice, when we stand before God to be judged.
At that moment, we will be measured by another measure, which is the measure we have used against others. We will be judged as we have judged; we will be shown mercy as we have shown mercy; we will be forgiven as we have forgiven others.
Only when we understand these things can we put the following instruction from Jesus into context:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[J]
While we should seek justice for others and protect others from injustice, we should have a different attitude toward others who do us wrong. It isn’t God’s perfect justice, but His perfect mercy that we should seek when it comes to wrongs done to us. Our own relationship to God is measured by it and depends on it!
[A] Exodus 21:23-25 (“[Y]ou are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”)
[B] Matthew 9:13 (“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners”); quoting Hosea 6:6 (“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”) The Hebrew word translated “loyalty” is ese (etymology unknown) – meaning covenant-loyalty – conveying the idea of God’s perfect loyalty to His own covenant. Significantly, Jesus interpreted this to mean mercy. God’s covenant loyalty is mercy towards us, and He is looking for our loyalty (relationship) in return. The word translated “mercy” in the Greek is éleos (translating the Hebrew word, ese, (covenant-loyalty, covenant-love) used over 170 times in the Old Testament. Éleos literally means “mercy,” as defined by loyalty to God’s covenant.
[C] Matthew 22:39
[D] Matthew 6:12
[E] Matthew 6:13-14
[F] Matthew 18:21-22 (“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”)
[G] Matthew 7:2 (“in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”)
[H] Psalm 51:4
[I] Hosea 8”7
[J] Matthew 5:38-48