I recently had the opportunity to see the inside of a Midland County courtroom – my first such experience as a pastor. This particular courtroom features a mural on the wall behind the judge’s bench; the mural depicts Native Americans coming together for a tribal council, a fitting scene to honor the history of the justice system in this part of the country.
What struck me the most about the courtroom, however, were the words that were emblazoned across the bottom of the mural:
Justice and Mercy – the Alpha and Omega of Human Attainment
As you may know, on Sunday evenings we are studying the Book of Revelation together while our high school youth group meets with Pastor Jerry. This study has been fascinating and challenging for us. (Remember, it’s never too late to try it out!) When I saw the courtroom’s motto displayed across the wall, I couldn’t help but think of Revelation 1:8 (NIV):
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; they are like our English letters A and Z. To say that something is the alpha and omega means that it is before and after everything else in terms of its importance. Anything else must be understood in relation to the “bookends” of the alphabet. Nothing is more important than the alpha; nothing comes after the omega.
In Revelation, we read that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega: he is before all things, and he is after all things. Nothing is more important than he; nothing will last longer than he. Everything that we do as Christians must point to the supremacy of Christ in the universe. Every one of our decisions, actions, reactions, and relationships should be influenced by the one who was, who is, and who is to come.
So back to the courtroom motto: can justice and mercy serve as the alpha and omega of human attainment? I like this as a slogan for our public justice system for a few reasons. First, we uphold justice as the “alpha” of our court system: those who have broken the law are to be held accountable for their actions. Second, we also uphold mercy at the end of the day: even though the verdict is “guilty,” the judge reserves the right to assign penalties (within the law) as he or she sees fit. This may very well include true acts of mercy from the judge. And third, holding justice and mercy together in dramatic tension with each other requires skill, patience, humility, and integrity.
I would suggest, however, that the tension between justice and mercy is not a human invention after all. We find the perfect and original example of this tension in the biblical God, who demands justice against sinful humanity yet provides mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)