Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Mercy triumphs over judgment

Roland Clarke


Across the world people from every culture and religion associate light with goodness, purity and even enlightened consciousness of divinity. The Bible says “God is light” (1 Timothy 6:16) and repeatedly links goodness with light, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.” (James 1:17) This connection between light and goodness is also evident in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Jesus performed various kinds of good deeds which included healing sick people inspiring them to give God praise. Jesus also raised people from the dead and this glorified God even more. (Luke 7:16; John 11:4, 40-44)

Another Scripture describing light as good is Ecclesiastes 11:7, “Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.” This imagery of sunrise is associated with the long awaited Messiah who the prophets foretold would “bring God's light and salvation” to the world. (Isaiah 49:6) Zechariah the priest proclaimed in Luke 1:78-79, “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”

Speaking of morning light, three disciples of Jesus accompanied him on the mountain when his “appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.” (Matthew 17:2) Reflecting on this experience later, Peter wrote,

We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

Because of that experience we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-19)

In a similar way, the apostle Paul acknowledged that “God makes this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Interestingly, Scripture portrays Christ's glory using celestial images like the sun and the Morning Star. We should not be surprised, therefore, to learn that God also uses other celestial signs to display his glory as seen in my latest two articles which describe the aurora lights and the solar eclipse. Indeed, an earlier article examines the celestial rainbow which Christians Jews and Muslims associate with the worldwide flood in the time of Noah. In this current article we will examine two Scriptures which demonstrate how rainbow imagery enhances the grandeur and glory of God.

Significance of the rainbow

Both Ezekiel and John were privileged to see a heavenly vision of God's majestic glory displayed around his throne embellished by a dazzling light and a rainbow. The prophet Ezekiel describes “something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground ...” (Ezekiel 1:26-28) Similarly, the apostle John “saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow.” (Revelation 4:2-3)

Such splendor including multicolored “gemstones and a glowing halo, like a rainbow” is a wonderful way to describe God Most High, King of the universe. The sheer grandeur, magnificence and exquisite beauty of such a vision was truly awe-inspiring, causing Ezekiel to fall on his face. John also fell down as though dead when he saw a similar vision of a figure

“like the Son of Man, … his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:13-16)

Expressions like 'flames of fire', 'refined in a furnace', 'like the sun in all its brilliance' are not only about glory but also about holiness and righteous judgment. This becomes even more clear with the 'sharp two-edged sword (which) came from his mouth.' Such imagery evokes fear in the heart of sinners. It is not surprising that the apostle John fell down as though he were dead!

Notice in Ezekiel's vision: the One on the throne had a human appearance which corresponds with Christ's title, 'Son of Man' in Revelation 1:13. In keeping with this, Jesus the Lamb is repeatedly described in Revelation as sitting on the throne receiving true worship with God. This is a huge stumbling block for Muslim readers. But even the title Lamb, used of the Messiah 19 times in Revelation is equally offensive to Muslims because it is clearly a reference to Jesus dying on the cross to take away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Why does a rainbow encircle God's throne?

The colorful image of a rainbow (and cloud) certainly enhances God's magnificent beauty but we should also consider how it naturally calls to mind the story of Noah where mercy follows judgment and in a sense triumphs over it. You will remember that in displaying the rainbow God graciously promised Noah and his descendants that he would never destroy the whole world by flood waters again.

And yet, not long after God made this promise, the deep-rooted reality of sin reared its ugly head. Scripture tells us that Noah got drunk with wine and his son Ham disgraced him, bringing down a curse. In fact, history has shown that the curse of sin was not able to be broken by Noah nor by any other prophet. Only God's promised Messiah could dispel the darkness and break the power of death. In fact, we already saw that Jesus supremely glorified God by raising people from the dead. We also read in Revelation 1:17-18 that Jesus holds the keys of death and hell because he rose triumphantly from the grave. (Hebrews 2:14-15; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

But one may ask: What's the point of promising to never (again) destroy the world by water, when God knew very well that people would continue being sinful and rebellious, and therefore, he would eventually have to destroy the world again, this time by fire?

Scripture answers this question in 2 Peter 3:3-15,

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.

In the final analysis, the symbol of the rainbow serves as a reminder that God is forbearing and patient with our sinful, rebellious world. What is true of God is also true for humans. As it is written, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11, NIV, bold font added)

Down through history the human race has persisted in sin which has, in a sense, tested the limit of God's patience. Even in Ezekiel's day when God displayed the rainbow around his throne, judgment was hanging over the nation of Israel. Ezekiel was given the unpleasant task of warning a sinful, rebellious people that judgment and destruction were coming, if they refused to repent. Sadly judgment did come and many were killed or scattered and exiled from their homeland.

Interestingly, Jesus showed the truth of this proverb (19:11) about overlooking an offense when he asked God to forgive those who crucified him since they did not really understand what they were doing. (Luke 23:34) They didn't realize that Jesus was completely innocent, in fact, he is God incarnate. The above passage from second Peter three shows that when the end finally comes, and God vindicates himself by destroying the heavens and the earth with fire, it will all be “to his glory.” This is the prelude to the restoration/re-creation of a new heaven and a new earth filled with God's righteousness and peace. (Revelation 21)

Examples of God's forbearance

The prophet Isaiah declared God's message to Jews and Gentiles alike,

the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts. For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always be angry. If I were, all people would pass away—all the souls I have made.” (Isaiah 57:15-16)

Almost everyone has heard about the prophet Jonah who was sent to proclaim God's wrath and impending judgment against the wicked people of Nineveh. At the end, Jonah was surprised and upset when God held back his judgment because they humbled themselves and repented. Instead of being glad that they had listened to his preaching Jonah became angry and complained, “I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (Jonah 2:2-3) But heaven rejoices when one sinner comes to repentance!


We began by looking at the goodness of God so it is fitting that we now consider how we ought to respond to his goodness and kindness. The apostle Paul challenges his readers, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant [forbearing], and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2:4)

A recent example of God's wonderful kindness is the magnificent aurora lights that were admired by millions of people around the world. It is evident that God graciously allowed us to view these beautiful displays without experiencing any of the devastating impacts that could have resulted from the severe geomagnetic solar storms that generated them. Thoughtful readers will ponder the possibility that in the not so distant future our world may experience much more severe effects, possibly even very devastating. If this were to happen would we feel that God is being unfair? Perhaps we need to consider that both mercy and judgment are divine attributes of God who is both compassionate and holy.

I trust that you have found this article stimulating and enlightening but what would really make me happy is to hear that you have responded to God's invitation by confessing your sin and accepting the gift of forgiveness and eternal life through believing in the Lamb of God who died on the cross for you. Indeed, Jesus Christ bore the burden of your sin on himself. (1 Peter 2:24)

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.

If these insights have inspired/challenged you or if you have questions please write me here. I look forward to hearing from you.

Here are a number of articles relevant to this piece which you may find helpful:

What does it mean that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2"13)?

The writer @ quotes a saying of Jesus about mercy in Matthew 5:7 as background to help us understand how mercy triumphs over judgment:

Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. James gives the converse of that statement in James 2:13, saying, in essence, “Cursed are the unmerciful, for they will be shown no mercy.” A Christian is not under God’s curse. One of the qualities of the Christian is that he shows mercy and compassion toward others.

This brings us to the final statement of James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” The idea is that mercy “glories” or “boasts” against judgment, knowing that, where mercy and judgment seem to conflict, mercy wins. The good news for every child of God in Christ is that God’s mercy toward us will triumph over His judgment of us (see Romans 8:1). Our sins may argue against us, but Christ is our loving Advocate who argues for us and prevents us from receiving the judgment we deserve. We, in turn, display God’s type of mercy toward others.

Lighting up the Darkness

Shine your light and let the whole world see

Reflections on the aurora borealis and the solar eclipse

The color of love

What does the rainbow signify?

Following the star

How shall we escape?

Is death the end?

Nearing the end?

Heartfelt fasting and repentance