When God is described in the Bible as being both merciful and just it can seem like an identity crisis, however Pope Francis said it’s the opposite: rather than contradicting each other, the two actually go hand in hand.
“Sacred Scripture presents us with God as infinite mercy, but also as perfect justice. How are these two things reconciled? How can the reality of mercy be articulated with the need for justice?” the Pope said Feb. 3.
While these two characteristics can seem like opposites, “in reality it's not like this, because it's precisely the mercy of God that brings the fulfillment of true justice,” Francis affirmed.
The Pope made his comments to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience. He recently began a new series of catechesis on the topic of mercy as it is understood in scripture, in honor of the Jubilee of Mercy.
He said that when we think of justice, what might come to mind is an administration office where victims of an injustice appeal to a judge in court asking that justice be done.
This, Francis noted, “is retributive justice, imposing a punishment to the guilty, according to the principle that each must be given what is due him.” While certain wrongs can be made right in this way, he said that it “still doesn't bring true justice.”
Instead, “it is only in responding with good that evil can be truly defeated,” the Pope said, explaining that what we find in the bible is path that teaches, allowing the offended person to approach the guilty party and invite them to conversion.
By helping the guilty person to see the evil they have done and by appealing to their conscience, they are then able “to see their wrong and be open to the forgiveness offered,” Francis said, noting that this is also how families forgive each other, spouses and children included.
Pope Francis noted that of course “this is not an easy path,” since it requires that we be willing to forgive and to always desire the salvation of those who offend us.
However, it is only in doing this that “justice can triumph,” he said, because, “if the guilty person recognizes the wrong done and ceases to do it, then there is no more wrongdoing, and the person who was unjust becomes just, because they have been forgiven and helped to find again the path of good.”
This is where forgiveness and mercy come into play, he said, explaining that this is the true meaning of God’s justice.
“(God) does not seek our condemnation, but our salvation,” the Pope continued, noting that this goes for everyone. The problem, then, doesn’t consist of lack of mercy, but rather of “who really wants to allow God to enter their heart.”
By making us see the wrongs we have done, the Merciful Father helps us to recognize our own need for his mercy, which is revealed in Jesus Christ, he said.
“God’s justice is his mercy,” Francis observed, praying that as God’s children, we would be open “to his divine mercy, and readily and generously share it with our brothers and sisters.”
Francis went off-the-cuff to confessors at the close of his address, telling them that every person who comes to the confessional is looking for a father who will help them to change their lives, who gives them the strength to go forward and forgive them in the name of God.
Because of this, “being a confessor is a very big responsibility, very big, because that child that comes to you truly seeks a father,” the Pope said, reminding priests that when they are in the confessional, “you are in the place of the Father who makes justice with his mercy!”