Not too long ago, my best friend sent me a link to an article by Tim Keller, a Presbyterian minister in New York. Keller writes about finding the balance between legalism and antinomialism, for “the gospel opposes both religion and irreligion.” He explains that there are two tendencies of the human heart: some people tend to be legalistic moralists who rely on laws and their fulfillment of those laws, while others tend to be irreligiously relativistic, believing that God’s love is all-accepting. Both types, Keller argues, seek “to avoid Jesus as Savior and keep control of their lives.”

What I find interesting is that these two groups could just as easily be described as conservative and liberal, not merely theologically, but also politically. Conservatives tend to emphasize law and order, harshly judging those who cannot uphold societal standards. Liberals tend to emphasize love and caring, without judging mostly because they let people set whatever standards they so desire. In the courts, conservative judges will condemn murderers to be killed themselves, while liberal judges will give pedophiles sentences of just two years. Both judges are likely in the wrong: the conservative is being too harsh, while the liberal is being too lax. There has to be a balance between justice and mercy.

It's a careful balancing act between justice and mercy.

It’s a careful balancing act between justice and mercy.

In the same way, there has to be a theological balance between justice – God judging us based on what we have done (cf. Romans 2:6) – and mercy – God loving us enough to redeem us in spite of our sins (cf. John 3:17). Yet our personal preferences will make us lean toward one side or the other: some of us like the God of justice more, while others like the God of mercy more. Understanding how they are the same God is one of the many paradoxes that Christians have to deal with and that we can’t understand completely in this life.

This, I think, explains how there can be extremely religious people in both parties. Democrats will justify their political beliefs based on the Bible’s appeal to social justice, while Republicans will attempt more social restrictions based on the Bible’s commands for our personal purity. Yet both sides miss out on other important teachings. Many religious Democrats will overlook their party’s stance on abortion, and a good number of Republicans ignore the necessity of love in all of our dealings.

This dynamic is also the beauty of the faith: no matter who you are, there is something in Christianity which appeals to you. The Bible touches people from all backgrounds and persuasions. Yet there is always something in the Bible that one will struggle to accept. Our obligation as Christians is not to grow complacent with the portions of the Bible that appeal to our preexisting biases, but to challenge ourselves with the commands which we would never follow without Christ. It is only then that we may be truly transformed.