“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,continuing his kindness for a thousand generations,and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin;yet not declaring the guilty guiltless,but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their fathers’ wickedness!”
Here is a great contrast! God reveals Himself to Moses, and to us by extension, as being simultaneously merciful and just. This usually presents an incongruity in our minds. We tend to gravitate to one or the other side of this equation. God is either merciful, or He is just. Since our view of God shapes our view of ourselves and of the reality surrounding us, we find ourselves responding in the same way as we view God. If we see Him as merciful, then we tend to be more easy-going, forgiving, and merciful. If we see Him as just, then we usually want justice both for ourselves and others around us.
Yet, here we find that God is both of these things at the same time. There is no contradiction. He is not a compromise of these things. That is, He is not partly merciful and partly just. He is completely merciful and completely just. How is He both at the same time?
While God has revealed Himself to us in many powerful ways, there are still a multitude of things that we cannot possibly comprehend about Him. He is beyond us because He is God and we are finite human beings. We only have the capacity to understand a very small part of who God is. We need only ponder for a moment the mysteries of the Trinity, or the Incarnation, to see that there are many mysteries of God far beyond our grasp.
But we do have a small piece of the puzzle in this passage. God responds to us according to our response to Him. If we seek Him, believe in Him, and work to obey Him, He is merciful. As the Psalmist says, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on the faithful. For he knows how we are formed, remembers that we are dust," (Ps. 103:13,14). However, if we reject Him and choose our own sinful ways, then He will be just and bring the just punishment upon us.
Can we live with a God like this? Absolutely! Who would have it any other way? We innately know there must be a just rendering sometime. It wouldn't be fair to see the wicked prosper and never pay any price for their wickedness. We all have an innate sense of justice that tells us there must be justice in the end. However, we know that we all want mercy, because we do not always get it right and we hope that God will forgive. So we find that this is, indeed, exactly how God treats us.
To believe in God requires a proper perspective of God. We must believe in Him as He is, not as we think He is, or hope He may be. We can only truly know Him if we will accept this fact. God is indeed fearful to those who choose to live in sin. But to us who believe, He is merciful far beyond our understanding. Let us then draw near to come to know this great and awesome God we serve. Let us be content to live with the mystery and choose to believe to the salvation of our souls.