Justice and Mercy are different. Mercy is helping a person in trouble, regardless of what caused their problems. Mercy is the outworking of compassion, so it should be normal for Christians.

Justice has a judicial context. Working for justice means correcting injustices. An injustice occurs when a person or group of people are harmed as a consequence of someone breaking one of God's laws. For example, if someone steals my car, an injustice has been done. The biblical solution to that injustice is for the thief to make restitution to their victim. Restitution restores justice.

In the same way, if a multinational company takes native lands without payment or permission, a theft has occurred. This crime breaks God's law, so it is an injustice. Justice can only be achieved by the restitution of the land or equivalent financial compensation. Christians should be calling for justice in every situation where an injustice has occurred.

However, there are many other situations where a person or group of people are in dire circumstances through the circumstances of life. They may have made some mistakes or experienced an accident, but no injustice has occurred. These situations require compassion and mercy, not justice. There is no injustice to put right, because none of God's laws has been broken. However, there is plenty of room for mercy, because Christians should always be assisting those in need.

Mercy should always be much busier than justice. Justice has nothing to do in many situations, because there is no injustice. Mercy should be busy all the time, because there will always be people who are worse off than others and in need of assistance.


Some Christians see all inequality as a cause for justice. They equate justice with equality of income or equality of wealth. Every inequality requires justice, whether Gods law has been broken or not. This confusion is dangerous, because it turns mercy into a legal obligation.

Confusing justice and mercy causes every inequality to be seen as an injustice that someone has a legal obligation to correct. Often that obligation is placed upon the civil government, so mercy-converted-to-justice becomes the basis for state-sponsored redistribution.

Justice and mercy are both concerned with equality, but in a different way. Justice requires equality before the law, so that everyone receives justice, whether they are rich or poor. Justice should provide equal justice to everyone, but it will not give everyone equal incomes or equal wealth.

Mercy is much less concerned with causes and is more concerned with equality of outcomes. Mercy works through voluntary giving and sharing. As mercy becomes more effective, incomes and wealth will become more equal.

Mercy is Generous

Mercy does not need to be very discerning. Wherever there is a need, mercy responds immediately, regardless of the cause. Mercy does not wait to work out whether the cause is bad luck, poor stewardship or injustice, but responds to the human need as soon as it appears.

Mercy is never wasted. If the cause of poverty is injustice, mercy is still the best initial response. Dealing with injustice takes time, so the mercy assists them while justice is being established.

Mercy gives without asking too many questions and imposing too many requirements. It is happy for the recipients to give account to God for how they use the gifts they have received.

Mercy will sometimes be ripped off, but that does not matter because our blessing comes from giving, not from the righteousness of those who receive. Jesus was ripped off many times, so we should not be surprised that we experience the same.

Mercy helps people who have been messed up their own lives by poor economic stewardship. Mercy is right at the heart of what Christians are called to be. Mercy must triumph over judgement, so being merciful is more important than identifying bludgers.

On the other hand, Christians should be leaders in identifying and challenging injustice. We have the wisdom of God, so we would be the first to identify injustice. We have the boldness of the Spirit, so we should be shouting the loudest against injustice. If we had a fully developed prophetic ministry in the church, we would be zealous in exposing and challenging injustice.

God is just, so his people should never be blind to injustice. Unfortunately, the church has got rather good at supporting the status quo. Part of the problem is that we are not even certain about what injustice is anymore. Injustice is hard to find if you do not know what you are looking for.

Justice and mercy are not in conflict. They work together. Christians must get better at both.

Return to Caring for the Poor.