Balancing Justice and Mercy Featured Article

Balancing Justice and Mercy

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).

Most of us are familiar with Lady Justice. We may have seen statues and paintings of her holding a sword in one hand and a balance scale in the other. The sword, of course, represents punishment and justice, and the balance scale symbolizes fairness in the justice dispensed. If we look closely at these representations of the figure of Justice, we see she is usually wearing a blindfold, symbolic of total impartiality in judgment.

The Bible stresses the same concepts of justice and fairness (or justice and mercy) as we see in Micah’s words “to act justly, to love mercy,” as well as the words of Zechariah (“Execute true justice; show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother,” 7:9), and the words of Christ himself: “you . . . have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).

But we must be careful when it comes to the blindfold. God’s Word encourages us to be involved in dispensing justice and mercy, to interact with individuals to whom these principles must be applied in our roles as parents, employers, or whatever. Biblically, we cannot be impartial. We cannot temper justice with mercy if we don’t look at the circumstances involved in the situation we are judging. In the same way, we cannot temper mercy with judgment if we do not look at the attitudes involved.

From a biblical perspective, we do need to see clearly what is involved in each instance where we can extend justice or enforce punishment, just as we must see clearly where we might need to grant mercy or forgiveness. Certainly, we must not judge by appearances, as Christ confirmed: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

Still, we must not judge blindly. We must learn to look below the surface and judge matters of justice and mercy without the blindfold of social pressure that sometimes may lean unduly toward mercy, or conversely, the blindfold of our human nature that may lean unduly toward justice. Either of those blindfolds can obscure what we need to see.

The Word of God encourages us to see situations needing justice or mercy clearly, but through the lens of its teachings, rather than through those of social pressure or human nature. We may understand this and know the importance of applying both justice and mercy, but how well do we know scriptures that apply to doing just that? It’s a simple enough study (search justice and mercy in a concordance or on a Bible website with search capabilities) and one we should all do at some point, preferably before situations arise needing the application of justice or mercy.

Ultimately, knowing the Scriptures and being guided by God’s Spirit through them is the only way we can properly hold the sword and the scale in our everyday lives as Christians. It’s the only way we can express the law of love through a right balance of justice and mercy, and the only way to do it without being blindfolded.

For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

Herbert is a pen name. He holds a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern languages, biblical studies, and archaeology.

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