When reading the Holy Scriptures, people with limited vision could conclude that, in the Old Testament, God was strictly justice: He seems to be an almighty God who made Sinai quake (Ex 19:18), who opened the earth to swallow up the rebels (Num 16: 1–35), a God of vengeance (Ps 94:1) who struck Uzzah dead for having touched the Ark of the Covenant to steady it (2Sam 6: 1–9).
And when, on the other hand, the New Testament is considered, it seems to highlight only the God of mercy, goodness and patience… Such readers only find room for the pleasant pages of the Gospel where Jesus cures lepers, the blind and the paralytics, and pardons sinners. And, quite naturally, they are always mindful of Jesus’ most extraordinary parable: that of the prodigal son.
It is actually perfectly understandable that the contemplation of God’s mercy be, in fact, the most agreeable. In the depths of our miseries, how many times don’t we ourselves feel like the prodigal son who abandoned his Father in pursuit of worldly pleasures? And how often haven’t we been moved in recalling our own returned to the Father, in confessing our sins and feeling the warm embrace of his pardon after having strayed from the straight and narrow path? But the fact that these memories please us does not justify a strictly one-dimensional vision of God: vingative in the Old Testament and merciful in the New.
After all, the Old Testament also contains passages demonstrating goodness, mercy and pardon. And the New Testament likewise conveys scenes of justice and even righteous anger. We must not overlook Jesus’ dialogues with the Pharisees, nor, even less, his expulsion of the money changers from the Temple! We cannot divide or fragment God, reducing him to our own limited size. He is both justice and mercy, and these attributes may not be disassociated in him.
According to the Angelic Doctor, God’s justice is true in that it gives each being that which corresponds to its dignity, and keeps the nature of each being in its rightful place and with its rightful powers (Summa Theologica, I, q.21, a.1). Moreover, ‘the work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy; and is founded thereupon. […] So in every work of God, viewed at its primary source, there appears mercy’ (Summa Theological I, q. 21, a.4). Even ‘in the damnation of the reprobate mercy is seen, which, though it does not totally remit, yet somewhat alleviates, in punishing short of what is deserved’ (Summa Theologica I, q.21, a.4, ad 1). And ‘justice and mercy appear in the punishment of the just in this world, since by afflictions lesser faults are cleansed in them, and they are the more raised up from earthly affections to God’ (Summa Theologica I, q. 21, a.4, ad 3).
And so, what is mercy? Etymologically speaking, ‘Mercy comes from the Latin [misericors], formed from miser (miserable, unfortunate) and cor, cordis (heart). This word refers to the capacity of feeling the misfortune of others.’ In Saint Augustine’s beautiful terms: ‘What is compassion but a fellow-feeling for another’s misery, which prompts us to help him if we can? And this emotion is obedient to reason, when compassion is shown without violating right, as when the poor are relieved, or the penitent forgiven’ (City of God, IX, 5).
God is mercy, He has compassion for the true miserables and unfortunates – the sinners; He takes no pleasure in the death of a wicked man, but rather in his conversion, that he may live (Ezek 33:11). Therefore, for an individual to be the object of God’s mercy, repentance is of the essence, along with the desire to never offend him again, which implies a true change of life.
Mercy is infinite in God, as everything in him is infinite, but those sinners who fail to acknowledge it, and who do not want to follow the truths that He left us, but turn their backs on him by their lives, create their own obstacles to God’s mercy. In this way they heap the coals of God’s justice upon themselves. For this life or in the next… Denzinger-Bergoglio has more….