Judgment and Mercy: The Hands of God

God is invisible and impossible to comprehend fully. So how does he reveal himself to us? And what does this mean for our lives in a world where God is concealed?


TheologyJul 25, 2017

TheologyJul 25, 2017


    Image: Josefa Holland-Merten on Unsplash

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In our world, HaShem is concealed from our direct experience. We tend to see him by his deeds, in and through his creation..

In fact, Creation itself could not have its continued existence if HaShem was fully revealed in all his glory. To relent from annihilating his creation, HaShem has “stepped back,” so to speak, to make “room” for a universe that is not perfect and has been running toward imperfection for a very long time. Our Master’s chief disciple, Peter, states that when HaShem is again revealed in all his glory, the very elements will melt before him:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)

So how do we “see” HaShem? We can be likened to fish in a pond. We cannot clearly see the being standing above the water. We only glimpse shadows of him occasionally as the surface of the water ripples as the wind blows upon it. But then a hand extends into our world. It is there for a moment, and it is something that we don’t have the vocabulary to explain. We’re just fish. Then another hand emerges into our world, but this one appears exactly opposite the one that we saw before. Perhaps this is a different being.

In this parable, the hands that appear are God’s features or attributes. He doesn’t have hands. He is spirit. His “hands” that dip “down” into our world are his various complementary, but sometimes seemingly opposite, attributes.

HaShem’s attributes are most clearly seen in the realms of the spirit, just as the one who stands above the water is most clearly perceived above the water. You could call the world beyond our own the World of Revelation. What is it like there? Few have gone there and returned. Some prophets have been given glimpses, and even they struggled to find the words to describe their experiences. Like the fish, they had only the vocabulary of their own world of experience.

A simple person might think that God is confined to the realm of heaven. This, of course, would be heresy. One may likewise be tempted to think that the one place that he wouldn’t be is in hell. But this isn’t what the Bible teaches. King David states that even if he were to descend into Gehinnom itself that HaShem would still be found there:

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Psalm 139:7-8)

In fact, HaShem is more revealed in hell than he is in our world! How can this be? One of God’s attributes is that of gevurah­ (strict justice). It’s one way he can make himself known to us. This is how he is revealed in Gehinnom, where fires burn unceasingly. This is his judgment reserved for the wicked. No one in this life will get away with even a single deed that has not received atonement.

There are not two powers in the universe. HaShem has no equal opposite. God is one. He has no match. There’s no being who could challenge him to a fair fight. Gehinnom serves his purpose of cleansing wicked and sin-stained souls. His strict judgment is how he exacts retribution for injustice.

There is no comfort to be found in the full revelation of God’s strict justice. Our Master alluded to this in his parable of the rich man who stored up all his treasure in this world and lived a wicked life not using his wealth to care even for the poor man, Lazar, who sat right at his doorstep:

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” (Luke 16:22-26)

None of us possesses a soul that is completely unstained by sin. We all deserve the cleansing fires of HaShem’s judgment. Thankfully, there is another attribute through which HaShem reveals himself. The opposite hand to gevurah is chesed (mercy). Mercy is the attribute of God that holds back from issuing upon sinners the punishment that they deserve. Chesed is not fair. That’s what makes it merciful.

King David made an amazing statement about HaShem’s mercy:

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the LORD will not count his sin. (Psalm 34:1-2)

So where did our sin go? Can it go uncleansed? Can our deeds go unpunished? Can we live less-than-righteous lives in this world, be blessed here, and then receive only blessing in the next world? Our sin is real. It must be cleansed through judgment. Every evil deed must have a measured retribution. Our God is not unjust.

Our Master, the wholly righteous one, accepted upon himself the punishment of us all. The strict judgment of God that was reserved for our sin was instead directed toward him. He did not deserve to suffer. The Prophet Isaiah foretold his wondrous deed:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:4-5, 8)

The Judge of All, through Messiah, reconciled “the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Thank God!

To see HaShem’s attribute of chesed, we need not struggle for some revelation of the divine by ascending to heaven. We only need to look upon Yeshua the Messiah. His love and devotion clearly reveal the mercy of God . Until he returns, we should each strive to emanate the same character traits that he displayed to us. They are in reality the same traits his Father has. Certainly, when our Master returns to his throne in Jerusalem, he will judge, but his justice will be in service to his mercy.

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About the Author: Sheldon Wilson is a Creative Team Assistant for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David, specializing in editing books and Messiah Journal articles. Research projects include the Messianic Luminaries series and the forthcoming Didache translation and commentary. More articles by Sheldon Wilson

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