July 2015 Visiting Teaching: Divine Attributes of Jesus Christ: Forgiving and Merciful
Guest Post by Hope. Read a previous guest post by her here.
Last month a member of my family died after battling a very painful disease. My grandmother called us while he was on his deathbed, and all I can really remember is her saying, repeatedly, that we should all pray for mercy. We should pray that God would have mercy on him, and take him home; he was ready to die. He had had a difficult life, and though he was a good man, he made controversial decisions and some might believe that he did not deserve any such clemency. But she called the next day to tell us that God had indeed extended mercy, and he had passed peacefully with his family.
The word “mercy” often seems to be associated with positions of authority or power. A king or a judge can be merciful. A parent can be merciful. A creditor can be merciful. In books, a knight will sometimes command someone to “yield to the King’s mercy,” and characters sometimes submit themselves to the mercy of the courts.
There are no scriptural accounts of women having mercy; not women, not beggars, not children, not sinners. But there is a Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant, which was regarded as the throne of God, where sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement.
I’ve found in my reading that in the Christian language game, there is a difference between Mercy and Grace. Grace is when God gives us blessings we don’t deserve. Mercy is when we do not receive the punishment or condemnation that is due to us.
And on the Sermon on the Mount, Christ says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” I don’t think there is anything inequitable about the way God extends mercy to all of his children. I think we all fall short of upstanding behavior, let alone perfection. We are unkind, we are selfish, we pollute or abuse the earth, we take advantage of people in situations of poverty or ignorance. We are violent. We are sneaky. We are self-righteous. We are proud. We judge too quickly, and condemn too easily.
If we are in a position to condemn, then we are also (by definition) in a position to extend mercy. In a world where we all have the power to hurt one another, we must all find it within ourselves to be merciful.
If we find ourselves angry at those with differing political views, we must extend mercy.
If we find ourselves punishing another person for their indiscretions or poor behavior or cluelessness, we must grant mercy.
Mercy isn’t easy. By definition it means that someone has done wrong. Someone has hurt or wronged or used another person. It’s simple to forgive when you don’t know the whole story, but mercy is something more. We don’t grant mercy out of ignorance, or because it’s easier to bury our heads in the sand. We grant mercy because we all have broken a law and asked for clemency.
And if you find that it’s difficult, remember that granting mercy is a supreme act of faith. By doing so, you accept that God will right the wrong, and Christ will pay the debt. Granting mercy is believing that Christ will cover whatever is due, and then forgiving.
Sometimes this is a great balancing act, because people often do very wrong things indeed, and legal procedures have to be observed, and people need to be protected. Sometimes extending mercy seems a very impractical thing to do. For terrible things like this, I can only be grateful for an atonement that is infinite, and for a God who is capable of forgiving infinitely terrible things and healing infinitely shattering wounds.
“God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones … Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
—Pope Francis, Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013