"Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord God, "rather than he should turn from his ways and live?"
"How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart is turned over within Me,
All my compassions are kindled."
What is "just" and what is "loving", what is "right" and what is "tender" are often assumed to be in opposition. If God is perfectly loving how can he hurt his creation? If God is perfectly just how can He allow unrepentant sin to go unpunished? These questions, it is posited, will be harmoniously answered hereafter.
I have complete faith in the answers of hereafter. But I wonder if the supposed tension we see between God's love and his justice doesn't stem largely from our imperfect notion about love and justice.
In John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Candy, an old swamper, has an equally old dog which is in terrible misery from the ravages of age – but Candy loves the dog so much he can't bear to part with him. A mule-skinner named Carlson, with Candy's grudging permission, takes the dog out and mercifully puts a painless end to its misery with a bullet to the base of the skull. Later, Candy admits he should have put his own dog down – that somehow his love for the dog had failed, wasn't strong enough to do what was needed.
We distinguish between what is "right" and what is "tender" because we often don't like what that "right" is. The psychological community has done us a great service by diagnosing the "enabler" – the one who seems to be concerned and loving, but who just feeds someone else's disorder. Love is always tough, and often demands that the one who loves be tough.
Conversely, tears of pity shed for those justice brings to bear are not tears of weakness, nor are they a betrayal of that justice. We also feel that the judge who weeps, who regrets is not fit to judge. Justice is supposed to be blind, antiseptic, mechanical. If judgment isn't blind and stoic, we doubt it is fair.
In the Inferno Dante, and his tour guide of Hell, Virgil, come to the Circle of Hell prepared for false prophets and astrologers. Because they falsely foretold the future in life, they are condemned in death to only look backward. Their heads have been twisted 180 degrees so that their eyes look directly behind their shoulders. They run the circle incessantly – moving forward, looking only back. For some reason this really affects Dante and he weeps bitterly for them. Virgil rebukes his tears and asks "Who is more impious than he who weeps at God's judgment?" (Canto 20)
If weeping at God's perfect judgment is impious, then God himself stands condemned, because He weeps in the quotes cited from the prophets above.
One day when the Lord says to some of us – "Depart from me, I never knew you," He will say it with tears, not with glee.
May we understand that despite what the chick-flicks and the action movies tell us – toughness and tears, justice and love, are not easily distinguishable from each other.