Just to forgive

October 23, 2007 at 8:01 pm 5 comments

If I ask what is the opposite of justice, nearly everyone would probably answer “mercy.” Most people have the conception that justice and mercy conflict, or at least exist in some sort of tension.

In a sense, they are right. On the other hand, I was a little taken aback recently when someone quoted 1 John 1:9 and I actually listened to the words:

If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Catch that? God’s forgiveness is presented here not as if it were in tension with his justice, but as if it is the result of his justice. In this text, it is a matter of justice, not mercy, that God forgives sin.

I don’t mean to read too much into one text, but I suspect this verse is hinting at a fundamental truth: God’s mercy comes from his justice. Justice does not simply mean enforcing the law to the T and making sure each person gets their earned reward; rather, there are times when the truly just thing to do is to extend mercy.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Pate  |  October 23, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    I John may be saying the same thing as Romans 1:17: the Gospel reveals God’s righteousness (dikaiosune). God was righteous to forgive. dikaios can mean the right thing to do. I’m not sure if it always has to mean “just” in the evangelical sense of the word (God punishing people to a T).

    Reply
  • 2. doclucio  |  October 24, 2007 at 11:21 am

    I am not disagreeing with your overall point (on the contrary, I think I do agree). But I think that one verse isn’t very convincing. The word just (diakaios) can mean:

    1) righteous, observing divine laws 1a) in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God 1a1) of those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined 1a2) innocent, faultless, guiltless 1a3) used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life 1a3a) only Christ truly 1a4) approved of or acceptable of God 1b) in a narrower sense, rendering to each his due and that in a judicial sense, passing just judgment on others, whether expressed in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them

    It could be just, as you say, or it could merely be conveying the idea that He is consistent/sure/faultless in forgiving every time. I think that’s the general idea. But keep fleshing this out…you’re headed in a good direction!

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  • 3. Jamie  |  October 24, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    James: I John may be saying the same thing as Romans 1:17: the Gospel reveals God’s righteousness (dikaiosune).

    Yes, I think so, and I had that verse in mind when I was writing. Thank you for mentioning this.

    DocLucio: But I think that one verse isn’t very convincing.

    No, it’s not, and thanking you for quibbling with me on that point. I know this one verse is weak (which is why I said the verse hints at my conclusion), but I’m writing a follow up post in which I will elaborate more. Perhaps you can share more feedback then and tell me if the longer argument is more convincing. 🙂

    Reply
  • 4. doclucio  |  October 25, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Jamie:

    I potentially agree with you, but as you’ve only used that one verse to support your conclusion (and, as you say, while claiming it is actually not that strong) I don’t know what else to comment on. You only said that you “suspect” that the verse is hinting at a fundamental truth. As I said, I’m by no means disagreeing with you; I’m just commenting on what I can.

    Reply
  • 5. Stephen (aka Q)  |  October 25, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    It’s a pleasantly surprising juxtaposition of terms.

    I’d interpret the verse to mean that because we have confessed our sins it is just that God should forgive us. In behind the verse is the whole plan of salvation, including Christ’s death for us, and God’s provision of faith, repentance, and confession as means by which we access God’s grace in Christ.

    Having provided means of salvation, it would be unjust of God to turn around and say, “Tough, I don’t forgive you”!

    Reply

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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