Amanda L. Giordano, Ph.D.
A paradox is a statement that contains seemingly contradictory constructs, yet can be true. Paradoxical statements can cause discomfort because the simultaneous existence of apparently opposing elements creates a certain kind of tension. Paradoxes compel us to step outside of our neatly organized, mutually exclusive categories and embrace complexity. For example, it is much easier to conceptualize someone as either good or bad rather than considering that all people have varying degrees of both goodness and badness. Although more difficult to tolerate, both/and statements often are much more accurate and realistic than either/or statements.
Therefore, it is not surprising that there are numerous both/and statements in the Bible. Instead of one or the other, God seems to invite us to live in the middle of seemingly opposing constructs. For example, let us consider the paradox that God is both just and merciful.
We read of God’s justice throughout the Bible. Moses, a man who had an intimate relationship with God, sang of the Lord’s justice saying, “upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew words in this verse refer to God’s righteousness in a judicial context: He is the ultimate judge pronouncing accurate verdicts of “guilty” or “not guilty.” In His justice, God issues punishment for the offenses of His people. For example, after God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the edge of Canaan, He commanded Moses to send men to explore the Promised Land (Numbers 13:1). Upon their return, 10 of the 12 men were dismayed and reported that although the land was good, they would not be able to defeat the people occupying it. This bad report spread throughout the Israelite community and they began to panic saying, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:4). Although God had done great things for His people and miraculously rescued them from Egypt, this new obstacle caused them to doubt His power and sovereignty. Therefore, because of their contempt, distrust, and lack of belief, God declared that no one from that generation would enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:21-23). In His righteous judgment, God held the people accountable for their sin.
If we only considered God’s justice, however, we would have a skewed view of who He is. Throughout Scripture, we also see abounding depictions of God’s mercy. Indeed, David writes in Psalm 103:10 that God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” Instead, God pardons us in His mercy. We see this truth portrayed in the Garden of Eden. When God created Adam and Eve, they were naked, yet felt no shame (Genesis 2:25). God gave the man and woman dominion over the Garden, telling them that they could eat of any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve, however, disobeyed God. After an encounter with the serpent, they ate of the tree. Afterwards, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). Thus, Adam and Eve made coverings for themselves from fig leaves and hid from the Lord. This was the first offense of humanity against God. Despite all that the Lord had given them, His wisdom, and His goodness, Adam and Eve chose a tempting-looking piece of food over obedience to their Creator. Their sin had enormous consequences that rippled through all of creation (demonstrating God’s justice), however, in this event we also see God’s mercy. Genesis 3:21 states, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The very One whom Adam and Eve rebelled against was the One who compassionately clothed them from their nakedness. Despite their disobedience, rebellion, and assault against Him, God cared for His creation, demonstrating His great mercy.
Thus, the paradox of God: He is both just and merciful. We all sin and fall short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23), hence we all rightly deserve God’s judgment. However, in Ephesians 2:4, Paul states that God “who is rich in mercy” did not give us the death we deserved but instead gave us life in Jesus. Indeed, in His mercy God sentenced His own Son with the penalty for our offenses. God is both the judge and the pardoner at the same time.
- In what ways have you seen God’s justice in your own life? In what ways have you seen His mercy? Be specific.
- To fully know and understand God, we must embrace both His justice and His mercy. It often is difficult to hold these two concepts simultaneously in our minds. Which feature of God are you more likely to focus on: His justice or His mercy?
Amanda L. Giordano, Ph.D., is a counselor educator, licensed professional counselor, and author of the devotional, Joy in His Word (https://www.facebook.com/AmandaLeeGio).