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God’s mercy

Mercifulness is an attitude of compassion and care, grounded in the nature of God himself, made manifest in the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah, and expected of me as a believer.

I want mercy in my life. Compassion is a wonderful gift from God. I am challenged by Jesus to replicate it in all of my relationships. I am to be a person of mercy. It will bring me happiness and mercy in my own life. Now that is some very good news.

“Happy (aka Blessed) are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” | Matthew 5:7

The mercifulness of God Nothing moves me to forgive like the wondering knowledge that I have myself been forgiven. Nothing proves more clearly that I have been forgiven than my own readiness to forgive. To forgive and to be forgiven, to show mercy and to receive mercy: these belong indissolubly together, as Jesus illustrated in his parable of the unmerciful servant. Or, interpreted in the context of the beatitudes, it is ‘the meek’ who are also ‘the merciful’. For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that I am a sinner; to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too.

  • James 5:11  — We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Master’s dealings, that the Master is full of compassion and is merciful.
  • Deuteronomy 4:31  — For the Master your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them.

But those who show mercy find it. ‘How blest are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them’ (NEB). The same truth is echoed in the next chapter: ‘If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.’ This is not because I merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness, but because I cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless I change my mind (aka repent), and I cannot claim to have repented of my sins if I am unmerciful towards the sins of others.

  • “Happy (aka Blessed) are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” | Matthew 5:7
  • Psalm 78:38  — But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger And did not arouse all His wrath.
  • Jeremiah 3:12  — “Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever.
  • Deuteronomy 7:7–8  — “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
  • Nehemiah 9:31 — “Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.

Jesus does not specify the categories of people he has in mind to whom his disciples are to show mercy. He gives no indication whether he is thinking primarily of those overcome by disaster, like the traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho whom robbers assaulted and to whom the good Samaritan ‘showed mercy’, or of the hungry, the sick and the outcast on whom he himself regularly took pity, or of those who wrong us so that justice cries out for punishment but mercy for forgiveness.

There was no need for Jesus to elaborate. Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously; as a citizen of his kingdom I must show mercy too.

  • Zechariah 1:16 — ‘Therefore thus says the Lord, “I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem.” ’
  • Luke 1:50–54  — “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy.”

‘Mercy’ is compassion for people in need. We can distinguish it from ‘grace’: ‘The noun eleos (mercy) … always deals with what we see of pain, misery and distress, these results of sin; and charis (grace) always deals with the sin and guilt itself. The one extends relief, the other pardon; the one cures, heals, helps, the other cleanses and reinstates.

Of course the world (at least when it is true to its own nature) is unmerciful, as indeed also the church in its worldliness has often been. The world prefers to insulate itself against the pains and calamities of men. It finds revenge delicious, and forgiveness, by comparison, tame.