A Free Life Found In the Justice and Mercy of the Old Testament

I define what is right and just. In other words, what is “just” is subjective. It is what I think is just—is just. That is the natural condition of my human nature. I have a rough time with the concept of an external definition of justice that does not take into account how I feel or how I am treated.

I also have the ability to use logic to develop an argument that adequately explains my sense of injustice in any given situation.

This concept is expressed in Arthur Leff’s 1979 Duke Law Journal article “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” where he states:

I want to believe-and so do you-in a complete, transcendent, and immanent set of propositions about right and wrong, findable rules that authoritatively and unambiguously direct us how to live righteously. I also want to believe-and so do you-in no such thing, but rather that we are wholly free, not only to choose for ourselves what we ought to do, but to decide for ourselves, individually and as a species, what we ought to be. What we want, Heaven help us, is simultaneously to be perfectly ruled and perfectly free, that is, at the same time to discover the right and the good and to create it.

That subjective rationalization is the very mischief that the Old Testament (OT) pierces. The OT presupposes that God is just and by extension His law is just as it reflects Him. It rejects the idea that I have within myself the very ability to know what is just and right. For if that were the case then there would be 7+ billion definitions of justice and mercy on this planet. It simply does not follow.

Human civilization is possible because we have a concept of justice and mercy that is external from us. The OT has the very concepts of justice that Arthur Leff longed for.

The justice of God is contained in His law and the maintenance of that law. The respect due to God’s law requires consequences for disobedience. It is only just that everyone, rich or poor, whatever the race or station in life, is treated the same for any failure to abide by God’s precepts of how we ought to live.

The overwhelming beauty is that as much as God is just He is merciful. Though the children of Israel sinned and became subjects of Babylon the Lord declared that they would rise yet again. They would be as dry bones brought back to life – “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord’” (Ezekiel 37:14). Wherever His rivers of mercy flow there will be healing. (Ezekiel 47:9)

By extension we, as followers of God, who have been forgiven for our own misdeeds are in turn to be His instruments of mercy for our fellowmen who have fallen short. The Old Testament is as if someone placed a mirror in front of us to contemplate our own spiritual condition. The OT may be seen, in our age of rampant individualism, as an ogre yet it has the beauty of ultimate freedom as the guilty conscience is liberated through divine mercy—“To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Then in such freedom we may partake in the joys of life by rebuilding the ruins of our lives as we seek to revive our neighbours who have fallen into the same traps we did. Now we can assist the foreigner, encourage the prisoner, feed the hungry, and cloth the naked. We, who were condemned, can express “everlasting joy” as we are clothed with the garments of salvation, covered with the robe of righteousness. “For as the earth brings forth its bud, As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7570

The OT presupposes that God is just and by extension His law is just as it reflects Him…The overwhelming beauty is that as much as God is just He is merciful.

This is another of many illustrations that The OT is more often the basis for doctrinal beliefs than the NT.

Does anyone today accept that God’s justice described by Hebrew writers is a true description of God’s mercy? Are we wishing for the return of this justice or do we believe that Christ demonstrated a much more merciful and loving God. Those actions may be called merciful and just but no one today would accept such a government with immediate death for even minor infractions.

Compare the God of the OT to His Son Jesus and consider the representation of justice and mercy that each testament represents. One is seen in dictatorial countries today; the other is seen in the democratic forms of government which millions prefer.


I guess Graham Maxwell summed up for me in the Pineknolls lesson quotes last week the way some people look at God the Father as the fearful, judgmental God:

And I think Jesus will love to introduce such people to
the Father. He’ll say, “Would you like to meet the Father?” And they’ll say, “Well, if you will go
with us.” He says, “There’s no need, but I’ll go with you.”
And what a marvelous surprise to millions of these people, to meet the Father in the Kingdom,
and discover that he is just as loving and gracious as the Son.

That to me shows we miss the God of graciousness and goodness that both the Old and the New Testament convey, the consequences are our choices.

As C.S. Lewis said, At the end of time are only two groups of people, "Those to whom God says, “thy will be done” and those to who say to God, “Thy will be done.”


I do not understand why any would want to follow a God who created them so utterly depraved that He would rather destroy them them than to restore them by His good graces.

Lord, have mercy.


What is it with Adventist search for God of “justice and mercy”… If God is not a God of mercy, as demonstrated by Christ, then what are we worshiping. Unlike the SDA “universe”, waiting to see if God is “just and merciful” most Christians settled that question at the start of their faith journey.


Psalm 85:10 – Mercy and Truth have met together. Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other.

The problem with SDA theology is that it does NOT agree that ALL the Children of Adam and Eve are Children, “Sons and Daughters”, of God.
Most SDAs believe that you ONLY become a Child of God when you accept Jesus.
According to the Old Testament ALL the Nations belonged to God, with God proclaiming His [Their] ownership.
The God of heaven is declared the God of gods [Baals]. And is therefore the only one.

Peter – God’s Justice has always been restorative and not punitive. But we ENJOY the thoughts of the “Lake of Fire” type justice. This is what our American Justice System is built upon. Punitive – NOT Restorative. Restoring the the murderer, thief, injurer, other, back into Society. They have to PAY! And pay with revoking their life. Same with Religious Thought. The Sinner has to PAY with Torture by Fires that last Forever and Ever, Unquechable. But in the OT God Hugs and Kisses sinners and nations.
The REASON we want persons to be converted, and tell them so, is from the FEAR of God, that God will toss them into the Fires of Hell. And Christians through the Centuries have posted pictures of devils toasting and tormenting sinners in Hell. There have been books written. We say “Love God” then show them word pictures of their family and friends, maybe themselves, toasting and roasting in Hell.


What if we spent as much time integrating justice and mercy instead of parsing justice and mercy. We would have assurance. What if we believed for for just one moment that God’s justice is restorative and not punitive and that his plan is that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance? This post would be irrelevant.

Addendum. We spend far too much time in this church striving for salvation and worrying about the retribution and appeasement of a primitive God. Christ’s message is simple,

  1. The kingdom is now and it is comprised of four things: commitment, contentment, compassion, & community.

  2. Assurance or judgment was complete when we are symbolically told that the Lamb was slain at the Foundation of the world. Our assurance predates our sin.

  3. If we really believed these things we would live. By live, I mean live today, But we don’t believe it. We all have the winning lottery ticket and until we believe that that the wealth is already in our bank account we will never experience it

  4. Christ said clearly, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.” Christ, was God’s final demonstration that the adversary (our own fears) the strong man was overthrown and his spoils plundered once and for all. It is ours to believe in.

Christ further suggest that if we don’t occupy this clean house, Fear will return with 7 more demons (or 28). Parsing Justice and mercy as in this post and the drivel the church produces in SS quarterly’s is so utterly fear-based it is controlling and oppressive,


Jesus taught us to pray “our Father which art in Heaven” This acknowledges us as formed by His hand, which makes us kin. As the issue of Adam we are all in denial of the Life giver, by rejecting the Grace provided by Christ we would all return to eternal dust. A false reading of Scripture the political landscape is in the process of denial of that kinship. Christ broke down the walls, torn open the veil. We are all under the same condemnation and have available the same saving Grace. Let us remember that the Ark of safety is not the church but Christ. We are one in Him. t Z


Barry, I hope you don’t mind me sharing some of what I have recently come to believe about God’s mercy and justice and suggesting a quite different path of understanding.

Barry rightly points out God’s mercy is evident even in the OT. He is also correct in saying that we are to respect God’s law and there are consequences for disobedience. So, a tension is set up between law and grace, justice and mercy.

This leads to two divergent and conflicting views about the plan of salvation.
On the one hand we have those who believe that salvation is a free gift of God generated by His love for us and based solely and completely on His mercy and grace toward us. All we can do is accept it through faith in what Christ has done.
On the other hand we have those who insist that the Bible says there is more required of us to be saved, that we must attain some degree of sanctification or holiness. They say our works are very important, and form the basis of an impending judgment of the saints at the end of the age and only those whom God judges as worthy will be saved. They say they are defending the correct and Adventist view of the gospel. But to many the attainment and retention of this seemingly undefined, required level of righteousness is a source of angst rather than comfort. From reading many comments posted on this site by those both in and out of Adventism I sense that many feel that this second view robs one of the assurance, peace and rest promised by Jesus.
Most Christian groups downplay the law and so espouse the grace alone, faith alone view. Because Adventists have such a high regard for God’s law (and rightly so), they cannot ignore the passages that speak of an impending judgment of believers based on the law.
I have come to believe there is a way out of this conundrum. I think we can both appreciate the good news of God’s mercy and grace in the gospel and yet still accord the law (and the resulting justice of God) the respect it deserves.
I have written an article explaining my thoughts on this issue. As a caveat I must tell you that it involves looking at some passages of Scripture quite differently than what I was taught in Adventism. I will gladly share it with anyone of an open mind.
I’m sorry for the bother, but in order to avoid the spambots I must tell you my email address in a roundabout way: the first part is the number 2520, the next part is the word dave, then (at)gmail.com replacing the (at) with @ (and of course with no spaces between the parts).

Is this warped teaching about lack of integrating or balancing justice & mercy just a rare issue or is it widespread throughout the denomination? If it is widespread, who is teaching it?
Maxwell spent decades confronting the issue, so evidently many pastors and seminary teachers are involved. As far as how one is saved or what salvation means…that process falls into the deception topic like what is grace and the gospel.

Maybe all of this confrontation posted here is just a moot point. Only sizeable surveys can reveal if the membership in general are like minded. I would think that most SDA really don’t care anyway.