God of Hope: Just and Merciful

This Lent I’ve been fasting from television in the evenings – with the exception of watching The Chosen. I just can’t get over seeing the story of my Savior unfold with such emotion. The writers have captured so much of what we’ve been exploring in this space during Lent – namely, the paradoxical nature of God. Through artistry we’re given greater imagination to see the push and pull of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, the outworking of His holiness and love, the beauty of His sovereignty over creation held by His goodness – and His just and merciful nature.

God is just. Part of His multifaceted character includes justice: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). God, in His holy perfection must always judge rightly – it’s why He casts Adam and Eve out of Eden upon their disobedience; it’s why He floods the earth, washing it of all its “only evil all the time” state; it’s why He allows Babylon to defeat and take the Israelites into exile after decades of covenant-breaking pagan worship. Much as a judge presiding over a trial exacts justice for crimes committed, God does not let sin go unpunished because it would be wrong – but also because it would go against His very nature to do so.

And yet, at the same time…

God is merciful. David said God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. The LORD is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8–9, NASB). It’s why we witness God forgive again and again – like Abraham after he lies to a king about his wife…twice, the Israelites after they bow down to a golden calf, and David after his adulterous and murderous choices as king. God chooses not to cut off His relationship with the people He loves, offering mercy in place of what they deserve because He embodies mercy.

Justice and mercy – opposites on the spectrum. Yet, in His mysterious way, God’s character encompasses both. Even more mind-blowing is how God can impose consequences while issuing great mercy. At the same time.

Of all the paradoxical natures of God, justice and mercy are the hardest for my mind to reconcile. Maybe I imagine the scales of justice, literally, where on one hand is the crime, the sin, and on the other hand is its due consequence: you cheat on taxes, you go to jail; you run a red light, you get a ticket.

But then I also imagine mercy as wiping that scale clean – no punishment given. 

So, how do the two reside in one God all at once? The scale image fails us. But, we have been given a picture of what just-and-merciful look like together – the cross. 

When we look upon the cross with our Savior’s body hanging, bleeding, dying, we see justice. All sin for all time paid for, covered, atoned. We also see mercy – for the One who assumed our sin as His punishment removes sin’s stain from our own lives, now and for eternity. What we deserved, He took on Himself.

This hope we have in Christ begins at the cross. For every unworthy notion we might have about ourselves, for every self-critical slander that tortures our minds, for every moment of despair that keeps us from moving forward, for every habit that keeps us in cycles of sin, we have the cross and the One who died upon it. For justice. And mercy.

Photo by il vano on Unsplash

The Cross

This week on The Chosen I watched the scene where Jesus is healing a crowd of people all day, and on the pages of Scripture that is all the detail we get. But in film, we get to hear the sounds of rejoicing and the gasps of awe. We witness the perplexity of the newly chosen disciples as they try to grasp what Jesus is about (they are still waiting for Him to overthrow the Romans). And, as the sun sets, we watch as Jesus drags His beyond-the-brink-of-exhaustion human body to His tent. He heals until the last person leaves, refusing to turn anyone away. It depletes Him. And it leaves me weeping for all the times I’ve taken Him for granted, taken His mercy for granted.

The next day He awakens fresh and ready for the next healing – but it requires Him to go to Jerusalem. Near the city gate, actual crosses have been erected along the road, heavy with the hanging bodies of murderers and thieves – set in plain view for all to see as a warning of what Roman justice looks like. 

The camera zooms in on Jesus as He glances up from His friends to see the crosses. A look passes in His eyes, and we know He knows. The dread of His coming day on the cross flashes in the crease of His brow, and a lump in my throat chokes me because He shows me what His brand of justice and mercy look like.

On the Lenten calendar, this is Holy Week – the week of Christ’s passion, His suffering, His enduring of all that He must in order to redeem us all back to God. This is our week to remember. To sit in the pain that Jesus experienced. To reflect on the work He accomplished by dying a death we deserved.

Justice has been served for all our sins, and mercy has been extended because Jesus paid the price. This is the hope of the cross. We live free and forgiven because our sins have been atoned.

Hope and Renewed Strength

Throughout my walk with Jesus, I’ve come up time and again with the reality of my weaknesses as a human. Physically, my body doesn’t always do what I want it to do. Mentally, my thoughts can hold me captive. Emotionally, my feelings can hijack God’s good plans with fear and shame. One by one I’ve accepted these weaknesses and have looked to God for help and strength.

Much more recently, however, I’ve had to come to terms with my weak faith, my inability to conjure up enough trust out of my own strength to carry me through waves of doubt or wilderness waiting. The day I finally saw my weakness for what it is, a dam broke inside me and I wept – sorrow for my pride and gratitude for the freedom that coursed through my veins.

Maybe it’s this new found acceptance of my own weakness that has me crying, yet again – this time with the followers of Jesus as I witness their own coming to terms with personal weakness. 

Because of Jesus, Mary Magdalene’s hope comes out of restored life. Simon’s hope is sourced by a promised future of freedom. Matthew’s hope flows from a place of belonging and purpose. To a person, Jesus meets them where they are, truly seeing them for who they are – and hope floods in as they accept what He offers. 

Jesus in His divinity knows the plan and outcome. Jesus in His humanity navigates the limitations of flesh – body, mind, emotions. But what underlies all of the curious conversations He has with His followers is the hope Messiah brings. 

Watching the exchanges, hearing the dialogues, seeing hearts change because of Jesus’ presence – it all reminds me to keep putting my hope in Him. To keep receiving the strength He has to offer because I don’t have, and can’t even come up with, enough strength to believe and behold and become all that I long to. 

Now I know why this one sentence out of all of Scripture grips me and fills me so:

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31a

Friends, it’s not within our power to build enough strength to be and do all that we desire, all that Jesus calls us toward. But when we release the reins of our lives and wills, giving space for the Spirit to live and move and have His being within us, we can stop putting our hope in others and ourselves. We can begin putting our hope in the only One who can be our enough. 

Jesus will renew our strength every single time we put our hope in Him. And when our faith falters, we can look at the cross to remember how His justice and mercy make a way for hope.

Father God, how grateful we are that your mercies are new every morning – that as the sun rises to usher in a new day, so your mercy brings us new hope, new life. And how amazing it is that your mercy never excuses sin. You never back away from what is right and just; You make a way for justice to be served. And how humbling it is to look to the cross and remember Whose blood covers every injustice. Lord Jesus, we remember. We look at You, bloodied and beaten, hanging on a cross You never deserved yet knew was coming. You chose to die brutally so justice would be served and mercy extended. Thank You that your faithful love never ends – that your mercies never cease! Great is your faithfulness – we will hope in You! Holy Spirit, what hope we have knowing that You are our constant source of wisdom and strength. Our faith grows more secure everyday because You are in us and with us, filling us with all we need to believe, behold, and become everything the Lord is calling us to. We ask for your help in our unbelief. We ask for your strength as we face our own weakness. We ask for your justice to guide us and mercy to fill us so that we can live into the truth that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. We put our hope in Jesus and our strength is renewed! In His name, amen.
(inspired by Lamentations 3:22-24; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 89:14; 1 John 1:7; Matthew 20:28; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Mark 9:24; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 40:31)

Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.

  • If you haven’t watched The Chosen yet, I cannot recommend it more. Words fail to capture the awe and wonder I have felt as new connections are made and deeper understanding is grasped. I think I want to make The Chosen my Lent tradition every year! 🙂 It’s free to watch. I’d love to hear your responses.
  • I had to do some reading of various articles to get my head wrapped around (or at least try to) how justice and mercy can be held in tandem within God. Got Questions had some of the most helpful explanations.
  • I think it’s easy for us in our educated, “enlightened” culture to want to achieve certainty in all things before we’ll believe them. Even as believers in Christ, we can succumb to the desire of understanding before we’ll trust — yet that’s not what faith is made of. Yes, there is much we can learn and grasp and apply as we dive into Scripture! But there will always be some elements that are mysterious, like how can a bush burn but not be consumed? How can God be both just and merciful? I so appreciate writers who have gone before us, who’ve explored such mysteries and can offer encouragement that for all we can cultivate about our faith, there will always remain mystery. And, it’s in that mystery that we can allow our questions to ignite our curiosity and awaken our awe of the One we’ll never fully understand. Yet we can trust. Thank you, Jen Pollock Michel, for going before and putting Surprised by Paradox^ into words we can turn to over and over!
  • I’ve attended Bible study at a local church since moving here in 2020, and one of the modern hymns we sing on the regular is “His Mercy Is More.” You’ll find it on our playlist — it’s a great one to play when we’re tempted to think we’ve sinned one too many times or gone beyond His grace. Nope. His mercy is always more! And we can receive it knowing that its debt has been paid fully.

Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:

  • As we add another two lines to our Isaiah memory passage, I pray that the truth of the words those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength will pour into your spirit, wallpaper your mind, and anchor your heart in the truth that God’s strength meets and overcomes every weakness you have. Put your hope in Him and be strengthened!

    Do you not know?
        Have you not heard?
    The Lord is the everlasting God,
        the Creator of the ends of the earth.
    He will not grow tired or weary,
        and his understanding no one can fathom.
    He gives strength to the weary
        and increases the power of the weak.
    Even youths grow tired and weary,
        and young men stumble and fall;
    but those who hope in the Lord
        will renew their strength.

    Isaiah 40:28-31a, NIV
  • Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others — especially as Easter approaches! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light into the world! 

Featured Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash. Bits and Pieces photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova on Unsplash.
^ Affiliate link, with which I may earn a bit.

Published by Shelley Johnson

Follower of Christ, wife, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. Seeker of ways to share the love I've found in Jesus with others.

8 thoughts on “God of Hope: Just and Merciful

  1. I love the Chosen! Seeing the Gospels come to life in a new way brings the message home so profoundly. Everyone involved with the show does an amazing job, and I’m with you, I highly recommend it to EVERYONE!

    1. YES! I cannot get over it — the writing, the acting, the intentionality. It takes me deeper into Scripture and puts me in the place where it all happened, giving me a greater context than ever before. 😯

  2. Shelley your words are like honey to the soul! I love your vulnerability, that led your to breakthrough! He is so faithful!

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