Questions From Readers
Is it correct to say that Jehovah’s mercy tempers his justice?
Although this expression has been used, it is best to avoid it since it seems to imply that Jehovah’s mercy softens or restrains his justice, as if his mercy were superior to the harsher quality of justice. This is not correct.
The Hebrew word translated “justice” in the New World Translation can also mean “judgment.” Justice is closely related to righteousness. However, justice usually has legal implications. Righteousness usually does not. It is true that Jehovah’s justice can involve the meting out of deserved punishment, but it can also involve the providing of salvation for deserving ones. (Genesis 18:20-32; Isaiah 56:1; Malachi 4:2) Hence, Jehovah’s justice should not be viewed as harsh or needing to be softened.
The Hebrew word for “mercy” can refer to the exercise of restraint in the administering of judgment. It can also refer to an active expression of compassion, bringing relief to the disadvantaged.—Deuteronomy 10:18; Luke 10:29-37.
Jehovah is a God of both justice and mercy. (Exodus 34:6, 7; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 145:9) His justice and his mercy are both perfect, and they work together harmoniously. (Psalm 116:5; Hosea 2:19) Both qualities perfectly balance or complement each other. Hence, if we were to say that Jehovah’s mercy tempered his justice, we would also have to say that his justice tempered his mercy.
Isaiah prophesied: “Jehovah will keep in expectation of showing you favor, and therefore he will rise up to show you mercy. For Jehovah is a God of judgment [“justice,” The New English Bible].” (Isaiah 30:18) Isaiah here shows that Jehovah’s justice motivates acts of mercy rather than that his mercy softens or restrains his justice. Jehovah shows mercy because he is just and also because he is loving.
True, the Bible writer James wrote: “Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” (James 2:13b) However, in context James is speaking not of Jehovah but of Christians who show mercy—for example, toward the afflicted and the poor. (James 1:27; 2:1-9) When such merciful ones are brought into judgment, Jehovah takes note of their conduct and mercifully forgives them on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice. Thus, their merciful conduct triumphs over any adverse judgment they might have been liable for.—Proverbs 14:21; Matthew 5:7; 6:12; 7:2.
Therefore, it is not correct to say that Jehovah’s judgment is tempered by his mercy in the sense that his justice needs to be softened by mercy. In Jehovah the two qualities are in perfect equilibrium. They balance each other just as they balance—and are balanced by—Jehovah’s other qualities, such as love and wisdom.