an astonishing image of god is recounted in an old jewish writing; a wise jew pictures god praying to himself that his mercy win over his justice: “may it be my will that my compassion may overcome mine anger, and that it may prevail over my attributes of justice and judgemet, and that i may deal with my children according to the attribute of compassion and that i may not act towards them according to the strict line of justice” (rab, ber. 7a).
such a picture of god praying to himself engages us; for indeed it is difficult for us to comprehend how god’s justice is reconciled with his mercy. the jewish thinker’s insight is instructive for us, mercy and justice are reconciled in god for god freely chooses it to be so. it is therefore god’s loving choice towards his children that he deal with them with greater mercy and compassion; i.e., over and beyond the strict line of justice alone. love and mercy after all are brought about by willing; it is indeed and forever will be a choice.
a couple of decades ago, a venerable pope also wrote about mercy. his insight goes beyond that of the older religion: dives in misericordia tells of how god’s justice springs forth from his mercy. it is not only that god freely chooses his mercy to be greater; but that, in truth, god’s justice is rooted in his mercy (wojtyla). we are therefore shepherded much more deeply into the heart of god; in awe, the church understood that god’s efforts to teach man with his justice is in reality a gift from his mercy. a doctor of the church puts it this way, “nothing can disturb god except for man hurting himself” (aquinas). fed up with such sinfulness, man hurting himself with his sin, god intervened in justice and mercy incarnate: our lord jesus.
a bishop added a much more radical reading of what the catholic document is telling us, “god’s justice is his mercy” (tagle). here we can only say in explicitation: the other face of god’s love is mercy. god freely chooses to allow us to grow in justice; not giving up and showing us how much he loves us until the end (jn 13, 1), even while we are sinners he already [and always] turns to us his face of mercy (rom 5, 8).