We have always struggled to understand how God can be just as well as merciful. Indeed, the mystery of God is that he can be both to the highest degree. But we cannot. God's mercy does not make him less just. His justice does not make him less merciful. But we have to struggle to present mercy from becoming lack of justice, and justice lack of mercy. Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary
How hard it is to be both just and merciful. We either choose one or the other. The person who is only just goes by the law, and only by the letter of the law. This law can be written or unwritten. They may even quote the policy number or the page on which the law is found, but they definitely know what the law is. They will definitely enforce the law. They seem to be all about punishment and retribution.
However, the person who goes by mercy doesn't seem to have any standards. When the law is broken, they may not respond because "it's not all that bad." They may argue that the person had a bad upbringing, a poor genetic makeup, or they just need to be shown love. Whatever the reason, the person who emphasizes mercy overlooks any standards and thus, any justice.
But Nouwen is right. God is both just and mercy. (Jesus is called full of grace and truth.) Numbers 14 tells one story of God revealing his justice and mercy fully. The people of Israel have made it to the border of the Promised Land. God has guided them from Egypt to Mt. Sinai (where the 10 Commandments were given) to the Promised Land. But the people of Israel are refusing to enter. In fact, they want to go back to Egypt from which God delivered them from slavery, and they want to choose another leader to replace Moses. God fulfilled all his promises thus far, and they are rejecting him.
So, the Lord tells Moses that he is going to destroy the Israelites, because they have treated him with contempt and refuse to believe and obey him. He will end his relationship with them. Moses intercedes for the Israelites. And the Lord relents and shows mercy. He tells Moses that he has forgiven them, so he will still have a relationship with them. Mercy. However, they will pay the consequences of their sin; all the responsible adults of Israel will not allowed to be in the Promised Land. They will wander 40 years in the desert until all adults above 21 have died. Justice. Then the generation not responsible for disobeying God will be allowed to enter the Promised Land.
This a great example of mercy and justice. People paid the price of their choices (justice), yet God still maintained the relationship with them (mercy). We too will reflect justice and mercy in our lives as we grow closer in our relationship with God.
As parents with disobedient children, we don't end the relationship because they disobey. But, they should also have appropriate consequences for their disobedience. If you take away the consequences, they will never learn.
As spouses who have been hurt by an action or word by the other spouse, we show mercy by being willing to forgive. For most small actions we don't threaten to end the relationship, because we were hurt by them. We need to forgive and assure the other that one will still love. (By the way, reconciliation is even better; that occurs when the guilty party humbly asks forgiveness and that forgiveness is given.) Yet, somehow there needs to be a consequence that matches the crime. For example, if one spouse complains how the other spouse does the laundry; the complaining spouse should then have to do his/her own laundry for a while.
This duo of mercy and justice should be displayed in every relationship we have: at work, at home, at school, at church, and so forth. Yet, it can be so hard, for mercy and justice seem opposite, and we love either the one or the other. But the closer we grow to God in Jesus, the more we will grow like him and the more we will be both full of mercy and justice.