In this way, mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound. Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in (people), and in God signifies transcendent perfection nevertheless love is “greater” than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice – this is a mark of the whole of revelation – are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and His mercy.(Ps. 40:11; 98:2f.; Is. 45:21; 51:5, 8; 56:1) Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it, if we admit in the history of (humankind) – as the Old Testament precisely does-the presence of God, who already as Creator has linked Himself to His creature with a particular love. Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill – will towards the one to whom He once gave the gift of Himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, “you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence.”(Wis. 11:24) These words indicate the profound basis of the relationship between justice and mercy in God, in His relations with (people) and the world. They tell us that we must seek the life-giving roots and intimate reasons for this relationship by going back to “the beginning,” in the very mystery of creation. They foreshadow in the context of the Old Covenant the full revelation of God, who is “love.”(1 Jn. 4:16)
Is it what you expected to read? Mercy and love is not only more powerful than justice but more profound. How would you describe that? Something beyond human expectation? In the mortal realm, we understand justice as something that can be measured and judged.
Justice and mercy are not equal, but the former is derivative of love. Note that John Paul II returns to the idea of love here. This is the very essence of God. Love is how God relates to people, and everything derives from there.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana