A. W. Tozer remarks in the chapter on justice that there is no conflict between God’s justice and God’s mercy. God does not send people to hell necessarily with neither delight nor with regret. In Ezekiel 18:23, God says, “‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?'” God is pleased to show mercy to those who are willing to receive it. And yet in Isaiah 13:11, he says, “I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.” This is remarkably unflinching. God does not express the slightest hesitation in handing out his justice in the right time.
In 2 Peter 3:9, he writes that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He is encouraging his hearers to not doubt that God will return for us, but that we must be patient, along with him, to wait for more people to come to Christ. How thankful I am for this! What if Christ had returned the day before I repented and believed? I would face a just wrath.
The Lord’s justice is furious and strong, yet, because he is still a God of love and mercy, He has demonstrated great patience towards us to allow time for more to come to Christ. I think of Romans 9:22: “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory 24even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Here we see an even further purpose of his patience: it demonstrates some beautiful quality of his character to those who have eyes to behold it. For example, this is a beautiful and comforting truth to me, because he has been gracious to me and has given me the eyes to recognize it, and so, while I weep for those who perish, I rejoice in the Lord who was patient to endure them as long as he did.
Just like me: he was patient to endure me far longer than I would have been. I like to hand down justice quickly. When I am right and I know it I have little patience for anyone who disagrees. God, however, has no emotional needs to satisfy and no one he is inclined to impress. He is who he is, unconflicted. And so, while men on earth, like fools say “there is no God” while breathing in the very air he has provided for them to breathe, reject him continually and his anger burns against them for their obstinance, he at the same time will bear with them for quite a long time in order to demonstrate something higher about himself.
In our day, we are quite uncomfortable with the notion of God’s justice because we are unacquainted with pain and suffering. Those who are daily in the throes of a life of suffering do not question God, because they have not been spoiled enough to think that they deserve any different. It is amazing to me that African slaves of America’s history largely adopted the religion of the white man, their oppressor. How ironic that they are now rulers in the kingdom of God while many of their bigoted “Christian” masters have perished.
They were well acquainted with suffering, and so it was easier for them to detach themselves from this life because there was little hope for them in earthly life. Christians who suffer and whose hope is in Christ alone are comforted by the idea of God’s justice because they look forward to the day when God will vindicate Himself and mete out punishment to those who oppress them. Only in recent times has the notion of God’s justice been under such heavy scrutiny and attack.
When Luke Skywalker confronted his father on the moon of Endor, he became a great spokesperson for this point of view:
Luke: Search your feelings, Father, you can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.
Darth Vader: It is too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.
Luke: Then my father is truly dead.
Luke Skywalker is the modern man, exalting himself over God and pleading with him to come back to the good side. Yet God, in all his unrighteous anger and temper tantrums, wearing a black helmet and causing evil tsunamis and earthquakes, can’t seem to let go of his violent tendencies. “It is too late for me, son.” So Luke, like any virtuous humanist responds, “then my father is truly dead.” This exchange illustrates well what happens when a person becomes grows uncomfortable with the idea of a God who still hands out justice.
We are the smarter, “good” son, trying to rescue our vindictive father from his antiquated ways, and we neuter him in our books and in our pulpits. But this is not God. God is the source of all that is good and he would be in conflict if he didn’t enact justice. Yet his justice is always good, patient, unconflicted, and righteous.