John C. Rankin

Justice cannot be biblically understood apart from mercy. In the biblical order of creation, all was just, or in right order. Following the broken trust that came with the intrusion of the first sin, we all have suffered one form or another of disorder. We yearn for justice, and usually in the sense of vindication against those who have harmed us. However, if we all want equal justice, we need to start first with our own sins, and acknowledge the desire of others for vindication in the face of injustices we have done to them. Thus, mutually competing calls for justice leads always to conflict and often to war. Justice and God’s judgment on sin are coextensive realities.

In view of this, the dual themes of judgment and mercy are found often in Scripture side by side. However, only those who admit that they are under judgment are free to then seek God’s mercy. If we do not admit that we are under judgment for being unjust, then we deceive ourselves, and admit no need for mercy. Accordingly, if we desire justice for others, in personal relations or in the political order, we need to be merciful people first. This Jesus emphasized strongly in the Sermon on the Mount. And as the apostle James states: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:12-13).


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House of Lords 17 October 2017

Text of John Rankin’s address on the occasion of the 500th annive5rsary of the Reformation.