Is that grounds for complaining that God is unfair? Not so fast, please. God told Moses, "I'm in charge of mercy. I'm in charge of compassion." Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy. The same point was made when God said to Pharaoh, "I picked you as a bit player in this drama of my salvation power." All we're saying is that God has the first word, initiating the action in which we play our part for good or ill.
Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.
God makes everything come out right; he puts victims back on their feet. He showed Moses how he went about his work, opened up his plans to all Israel. God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he's rich in love. He doesn't endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs. (Romans 9:14-18; James 2:12-13; Psalm 103:6-10, The Message)
My pastor helped me out with this post not once, but twice this weekend. He had been planning to finish up a mini-series on the Beatitudes, but told me he got "stuck on mercy" and planned a message just on that particular trait. Then, during that message, he said that in Roman culture, mercy was viewed as a very bad thing. The Romans were big on justice, but showing mercy just showed a lack of character and weakness. How odd that even before I hear this, God pressed on my heart the passage from Romans. To the ears of those people, calling out the fact that God was in charge of mercy must have left many of them thinking this was a pretty weak God indeed. Who among them would want a God who held back His justice in favor of providing mercy?
The subject of mercy caused me to do some pondering of my own. The strange way my brain often works takes me in multiple directions when this happens, and a quick check of a dictionary website confirmed a definition related to compassion shown toward someone who had committed an offense or otherwise was in debt. Then, I considered the final scene in the movie Braveheart where Wallace is being tormented and even the man performing the act ends up begging him to cry out "mercy" and end it all. I was also reading excerpts from C.S. Lewis where he calls out the simple principle from the Lord's Prayer that says we need to forgive in order to be forgiven. Matthew quotes our Lord as saying those who are merciful will get more mercy themselves, so all that began to come together as I thought more about the subject. Mercy and forgiveness, as provided to me from God, should naturally flow from me to others.
Two examples from Jesus' teaching hammered home the concept (both of them coming from Sam's message). The story of the impossible debt (Matthew 18:21ff) and the parable of the Good Samaritan. The men in these brief stories who show mercy are a reflection of God's heart. In the former story, the servant who so graciously received the merciful act failed to let it change his heart and found himself stripped of what he had been given. In the latter, we never hear about the man who was beat up, but the teacher of the law who posed the initial questions must have left the encounter shaking his head. A lowly Samaritan was portrayed as having far more mercy than two men appointed to God's service.
As I walk the Crooked Path, I need to be mindful of the fact that God has given me a great deal of mercy. His grace and forgiveness provided in Christ have made it possible for me to see Him more clearly than ever before. And what I see is the loving gaze of a Father who wants only the best for me and who wants me to turn what He has given around and reflect it out to a dark and dying world. My own impossible debt has been cancelled and I need to live each day in the light of God's merciful act toward me. So, maybe being stuck on mercy is a pretty good thing. After all, it puts me in a better frame of mind to love those around me like my Father does. Oh, and mercy wins every time ... that's a promise worth remembering.
- So, just how merciful are you in your daily life? Or do you find yourself with a judgmental attitude far more often?
- Does it bother you at all that God says we need to show mercy to others in order to really experience mercy in our own lives? If you aren't generally a merciful person, how does that make you feel?
- When was the last time your heart was moved with compassion toward somebody else, the kind of compassion the Samaritan showed to the traveler? Has it been far too long?