“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.” (concluding prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet)
We know that in God there is both mercy and justice; rather, that God is both mercy and justice. However, we also pray that, upon our death, we might meet in Christ not the just Judge, but the merciful Savior. Knowing that mercy and justice can never truly contradict one another, we might still ask which is greater in God, and which comes first and which is greater.
Is justice the foundation from which mercy builds? Or, is mercy the fundamental disposition of God toward his creatures?
Justice in God
Justice is to render another his due.
There are two kinds of justice: Commutative justice and distributive justice. Commutative justice is when a man is in another’s debt as having received something from him. This type of justice clearly cannot be in God – for all good things come from him, and he is debtor to none.
On the other hand, distributive justice is that by which a man gives good things to all according to their proper condition. This is in God, because he gives all blessings according to his wisdom and in a manner which befits each creature. But, the creatures cannot claim to have any true authority over God in this respect, for he is a “debtor” only to his own wisdom – he need only distribute blessings according to his providential will.
To be very clear: God owes no absolute debt of justice to any creature. He doesn’t owe it to us to give us grace or to save us. Rather, he owes it to himself to give us grace and save us – insofar as he has promised this and has willed it.
Mercy in God
Mercy is a passion of sorrow at the misery of another which leads a man to desire to allay the other’s suffering as though it were his own.
In this sense, there is not mercy in God – since he suffers from no passions whatsoever. However, the divine mercy is true and real, not as a passion but in relation to the effect. Namely, God is said to have mercy insofar as he does indeed act to dispel the misery of us poor creatures.
Further, Christ became man in order to suffer with us and so experience our sufferings in his humanity.
The absolute priority of Divine Mercy
St. Thomas Aquinas offers a brilliant explanation of the fact that, although mercy and justice are in every act of God, mercy always precedes justice:
“Whatever is done by God in created things, is done according to proper order and proportion wherein consists the idea of justice. Thus justice must exist in all God’s works, Now the work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy; and is founded thereupon. For nothing is due to creatures, except for something pre-existing in them, or foreknown. Again, if this is due to a creature, it must be due on account of something that precedes. And since we cannot go on to infinity, we must come to something that depends only on the goodness of the divine will—which is the ultimate end. So in every work of God, viewed at its primary source, there appears mercy.” (ST I, q.21, a.4)
Because God does not have to create anything at all, everything he does in the world is an expression first and foremost of his Divine Mercy.
Even the souls condemned to eternal punishments in hell first experience mercy before justice: For they have no claim to existence, and it is a great act of mercy that God continues to preserve them in existence (especially since they hate him).
Now, if the soul in mortal sin and even the soul in hell is supported by the Divine Mercy, how much more are we who live (and especially those in the state of grace) encompassed in Mercy?! What have we to fear?
O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of Mercy for us, I trust in You!