Thomas Brooks once wrote, “Mercy is God’s Alpha – Justice is His Omega.”* What Brooks wrote is an astonishing concept to think about, but if we are not careful, we’ll completely miss out on this rich truth, leading to a very deep misunderstanding of who God truly is. Far too often, our culture, churched or unchurched, hold the words “mercy” and “justice” in complete contrast. Some describe God as “merciful.” Others describe Him as “just.” Few describe God as both, or can’t reconcile their relationship to each other.
This has led to many unfortunate circumstances that have spread mightily into our churches. Some congregations have turned the phrase “Come As You Are” into “Stay As You Are,” while other church bodies proclaim, “Be Ashamed With Who You Are.” Neither approach is right. Both instances are missing the true God – a God who is all-merciful, and all-just, all at once. In the same way two “opposites” readily unite in magnetics, so God’s mercy and justice attract each other and bind together firmly. “Mercy is God’s Alpha – Justice is His Omega.” It is this fusion that forms the beautiful concept of grace, the powerful combination of perfect mercy and justice that glorifies God at every step.
This wasn’t Brooks’ idea of God, however. He, in typical Puritan fashion, simply made observations about the stories we were already reading about and (thought we) knew so well. To better understand God’s grace, and to better understand how mercy and justice complement one another, we must turn to the Scriptures, and we must not fall into old traps and ways of thinking. Instead of dividing “Mercy” and “Justice” into two columns and setting one Biblical event in one column, we must put the entire Bible in each column. One of the most critical pieces of understanding the relationship between justice and mercy is to look at Genesis 3.
After the bliss of living in the presence of God’s goodness and within the boundaries of His law in Genesis 2, the first human couple fell into utter darkness only seven short verses after. The crafty serpent used his devices of deception and pride to bring about a feeling never known by Adam or Eve before. Together, they chose themselves over God. They made His glory inferior to theirs through one bite of fruit, and ushered into the world and each human heart a violation of God’s perfect universe. At the Garden of Eden that day, labor became hard, pain was promised, and death was sure (3:14-19). God had every right to assign such punishment. After all, His glory, the chief end of all things, was warmly defied in an act of selfishness.
That’s where many of us stop in Genesis 3. But Genesis 3 doesn’t stop there. In fact, the next two verses are some of the most remarkable verses in all of Scripture about the mercy of God.