We are generally ok with the idea of a God of Mercy, but most people get a little nervous when you speak of a God of Justice. This brings up for many the picture of a God of Wrath and Vengeance. But this need not be so. The two ways of looking at God may at times be related in literature and perhaps in some cases in the Bible, but that God is a God of Justice has a long and honorable history and need not include notions of violence and vengeance.
While some people connect mercy with leniency and use the term hoping to get off lightly at the judgement day, mercy really is intimately related to Justice. As the Psalmist put it: Mercy and Justice shall kiss (Psalm 85:10).
As Americans, we are enthralled by Justice and the working out of Justice. Think of all the ‘Law & Order’ type shows. How often are we eventually in a court room hoping that the innocent goes free and the guilty are punished!
The Justice of God includes this righting of wrongs, but is wider and more basic than that.
God has created a world of order and mutually related responsibilities. While the world in its wonder is truly a marvel, God has deliberately left it unfinished. Since each of us is made in the image and likeness of God, we are all therefore called upon to help create the world and at times heal it. A big responsibility.
But we can say no to God and our place in the created order. This is called sin. Instead of creating and healing we can exploit and destroy the world. God allows this because He is a God of Justice and will not take away the gift of free will.
There is a place where people go (when they die) who do not repent of their refusal to aid the God of Justice. It is called Hell. Because God is just, He cannot ignore or change our choices. God wants to be merciful to everyone, but the person must want the mercy of God and ask for it and do the necessary work of repairing the world that they exploited in this life. They do this while still living on earth and by God’s mercy in the state of Purgatory.
This idea of Justice goes against our sense of entitlement. Everyone should go to heaven, we think. Really? What if they don’t want to go? Does God force someone to go to heaven?
Heaven is probably a boring place and even a painful place for someone who has built their lives around themselves. Why should they spend their eternities praising God? Who does He think He is?
This is the sadness of God: that He wants to give His love to everyone but that there are some who simply do not want it and prefer the bare and lonely wastes of self will rather than the goodness of the Father. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. The Father waits for the return and the repentance of the son. In the story he does return, much to the joy of his Father. But he could have stayed back in the company of the pigs! He was free, even if that meant his own torture and death at the hands of privation and his own pride. I have seen in this life people who refuse to return to the Father and stay mired with the pigs of their own self-will.
But God is just and allows the consequences of free choice. Hence the great importance of humility which could bring the most recalcitrant sinner back to God. But a lifetime of pride and self-will is hard to correct without the grace of God, and only a humble person can admit their mistakes and open their lives to God in repentance.
While it is possible that someone like Hitler repented at the end of his life, it seems highly unlikely due to the vastness of his pride and his hatreds. We are the sum total of our choices, good or bad. Only we can admit God’s grace into our lives, the grace that is freely bestowed by the God of Mercy and Justice.