Justice or Compassion
An excerpt from The Musings of a Fool -
Many people speak of God as being just. I don’t see God in that way. Of course God is just, but He is so much more. The scales will be balanced on the last day, only it will be with the substance and compassion of Christ’s suffering. How many of us feel that we want God to be just and fair when the reality of our lives is that, deep down inside our hearts, we plead for His mercy. At least that was my hope the first time I knelt before Him. As we discussed in the last chapter, compassion is the evidence of grace, so mercy is the evidence of compassion. And as we will discuss in this chapter, forgiveness is the evidence of mercy.
I had no real understanding of compassion the first time I knelt before God, and He cracked open my chest.
Let me try to explain by sharing a glimpse into the night I gave my life to the Lord. I was sitting on the couch in our tiny apartment, reading my Bible and drinking a beer. Mary, my wife, had gone to bed early that night, so I was alone—just me, my thoughts, and the Lord.
Reading the Bible was something new to me. I had purchased the Bible and had it hidden in my car. The idea of Mary knowing that I was having ideas about God at the time was a little embarrassing.
I was enlisted in the United States Air Force, and just before I went off to my permanent duty station in Columbus, Mississippi, my father told me to be careful that I didn’t catch “it.” When I asked him what “it” was, he explained his comment by saying, “You are moving deep into the Bible belt—be careful that you don’t catch religion.” He said religion like it was a dirty word.
Well, that’s exactly what was happening, and I was more than a bit self-conscious around my family. At the time I viewed religion as being weird, but I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t wonder about God. God seemed to be pulling me toward Himself. It seemed that everywhere I turned, there was someone in my path telling me about Jesus. I suppose it could’ve been because I was living in the Bible belt as my father was concerned. But regardless as to why, I could feel God wooing me. It was exciting and altogether terrifying at the same time.
As I sat there reading, I had this overwhelming desire to pour myself out before God. I got up off the couch and walked through the back door. From there, I continued about a hundred yards out into the middle of the field behind our apartment.
It was there that I fell to my knees. And as I did, it felt as though God was standing right in front of me—and I have no doubt that He was. I was shaking uncontrollably, and my heart was pounding in my chest. I begged God to forgive me for hurting Him and so many people in my life. Trust me—the list wasn’t short. I had spent the better part of my life being a self-absorbed moron.
At the time, I knew very little—and I mean very little—about the doctrine of justification and the debt that I owed God. I knew nothing about theology. However, what I remember is being terrified that God was just and that He would not accept me—which is exactly what I would have deserved. Instead, what I experienced was mercy and compassion that I had no way of understanding. As I mentioned above, I had no real understanding of compassion, but that’s exactly what I experienced. I felt bathed in God’s presence, and I have been chasing that feeling ever since.
God didn’t just simply forgive me of my sins. He entered into my pain. He uncovered my sin and then bathed me in His presence. Yes, I am trying to describe the indescribable love of God. I hear people who have shared similar experiences with God say that He removed their guilt. That’s not the way it felt for me at all.
I understood that my sins were forgiven, but the weight of my sin didn’t just go away. Even to this day, I am in touch with my sin. This may sound odd to some, but what I felt was the healing balm of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t just wave his hand and absolve me. He entered into my sin with me. Not as a participant—not at all—but as a loving Father. He helped me work through the guilt of what I had done, and the hurt and pain of this life.
Compassion is not just simply feeling sorry for somebody. Compassion runs much deeper. Compassion is something we share. The word of God describes Jesus as being full of compassion (James 5:11). Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus enters into our sin with us. He feels the shame of our guilt, and equally as important, He understands how others have hurt us.