Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is God’s Mercy Really Infinite?

By S. Michael Durham

Does infinite mercy mean no judgment? Is God’s mercy the guarantee of reprieve? If I say God’s mercy has run out for America have I contradicted infinite mercy; have I stated that His mercy has limits? What do we mean when we say God’s mercy is infinite?

First, we do not mean that divine mercy precludes judgment. The Bible says definitively that there is judgment now and a great day of judgment is coming. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Paul goes on to say in the second chapter of Romans, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’” (Romans 2:5, 6). Somehow mercy and judgment can both exist and both remain infinite.

Second, on a positive note, judgment can be the exercise of mercy. If the word mercy means kindness, then it is kindness for God to exercise His judgment for the sake of His glory, His people and the cause of righteousness. Therefore, infinite mercy is not contradicted in the dispensing of infinite wrath. Isaiah didn’t see any contradiction when he prophesied of the Messiah’s reign, “In mercy the throne will be established; And One will sit on it in truth, in the tabernacle of David, Judging and seeking justice and hastening righteousness” (Isaiah 16:5). The throne of Christ will be established by mercy so that He may execute the triumph of righteousness. David rehearses the same thought about Israel and Pharaoh’s army. What was mercy to one was judgment to another: “To Him who divided the Red Sea in two, for His mercy endures forever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for His mercy endures forever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalms 136:13-15).

Therefore, if God should put an end to us as a society and a nation, we should not say that His mercy has ended. It is because of mercy that He does not allow evil to continue or allow us to sin in a more vile way (if it can be imagined that our sinning could become more vile).

But this is not just true for a nation; it is also true for the individual. God’s mercy to the sinner cannot be underestimated nor presumed upon. He is unbelievably good to the most wicked of sinners. He allows them to prosper or grants them many opportunities to hear the gospel. Can you call such mercy by any other name? His lovingkindness is infinite in measure. Yet, there comes a day when His mercy is not inexhaustible toward the sinner, but for the sake of all that is named good the sinner is cut down and brought under the infinite judgment of God. Although the sinner does not experience God’s mercy, we can be sure that mercy did not end. In mercy judgment was executed. Infinite mercy demands infinite judgment.

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