Grace > Wrath, Or “Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment”

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13b

See that verse? It says something quite beautiful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. And is this not just what we need? If judgment triumphed over mercy, we would all be doomed, for instead of Christ on the Cross for us we would ourselves all suffer God’s wrath.

Yet there is a thought out there, and a someone popular one among conservative evangelicals like myself, that God’s mercy and His judgment are equals, that His wrath defines Him as much as His love. And the reason for this emphasis is certainly understandable. Theological liberalism and progressivism both act as though God’s “No” were non-existent or at least negligible in the grand scheme, so proper theology ought to resist such a temptation. But we must not respond with error in the other direction, unbiblically making grace and condemnation equal in God. For this is not what He has revealed to us in the Scriptures and in the life of His Son.

Some of you will be suspicious on this point, so I will seek to demonstrate it will a few Biblical proofs. Let it be known that God defines Himself more with love than wrath, and deals more fully in grace than in judgment. The first proof I put forward is the Old Testament judgment texts. Time after time in the OT, especially in the prophets, God warns of frightening and severe judgment. But what follows? Nearly never is that the last word. Almost every single terrifying warning is followed up by the promise of future grace. A small sample includes the entire book of Amos and its conclusion in 9:11-15, the curses of the Law in Deut. 29 and their conclusion in 30:1-10, the book of Joel and its conclusion in 3:16-21, and large portions of Isaiah. The theme repeats, woven throughout all God’s dealings with Israel: you have sinned, you will be severely and brutally punished, but you will always be restored.

Another proof comes from God’s own nature. We know that love is necessary to who and what God is, for John tells us, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). Yet we are not told likewise that “God is wrath” or “God is judgment.” For how could this be? While God has always eternally loved and been loved in His inner Triune life, as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, God’s wrath only exists as a response to sin. Wrath and judgment are not eternal characteristics of God’s life, but historical realities created in response to earthly sin. To speak a bit more technically, God’s love is necessary (i.e. He would not be God without it), but His wrath is contingent (i.e. it only exists in response to something else). God has always loved and will always love, but judgment came only after sin came and will end after sin ends.

Finally, I point to the order of God’s interactions with us humans. Which does God want for all people, grace or judgment? I’ll give you a hint: check 2 Peter 3:9. What does He take no pleasure in? The death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23), which brings them to judgment. And which of His activities, mercy or punishment, does He require that each of us emulate every day? Jesus’ own words seem clear on that matter. Above all of this, which side does He use to fulfill the other in the life of His beloved Son? Did He have mercy on His Son to make sure we were all condemned, or did He send His Son into death and wrath so that we could all be saved? The Cross here makes the answer obvious.

Hopefully, then, it is clear. God has a preference to love, grace, and mercy over wrath, judgment, and condemnation. They are not equal aspects of how our Father in heaven relates to the people He has made. Grace beats condemnation, love overwhelms wrath, and mercy triumphs over judgment. This is what God has told us out of His abundant kindness towards us. So let us celebrate what the Father does for us through His Son, that we should experience such love!

The Lord says to his people,

“Your wounds are incurable,
your injuries cannot be healed.
There is no one to take care of you,
no remedy for your sores,
no hope of healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you;
they no longer care about you.
I have attacked you like an enemy;
your punishment has been harsh
because your sins are many
and your wickedness is great.
Complain no more about your injuries;
there is no cure for you.
I punished you like this
because your sins are many
and your wickedness is great.
But now, all who devour you will be devoured,
and all your enemies will be taken away as prisoners.
All who oppress you will be oppressed,
and all who plunder you will be plundered.
I will make you well again;
I will heal your wounds,
though your enemies say,
‘Zion is an outcast;
no one cares about her.’
I, the Lord, have spoken.”

The Lord says,

“I will restore my people to their land
and have mercy on every family;
Jerusalem will be rebuilt,
and its palace restored.
The people who live there will sing praise;
they will shout for joy.
By my blessing they will increase in numbers;
my blessing will bring them honor.
I will restore the nation’s ancient power
and establish it firmly again;
I will punish all who oppress them.
Their ruler will come from their own nation,
their prince from their own people.
He will approach me when I invite him,
for who would dare come uninvited?
They will be my people,
and I will be their God.
I, the Lord, have spoken.”

Jeremiah 30:12-22

Grace > Wrath, Or “Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment”

So what do you think?