June 7, 2022

Is God Rich in Mercy?

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7

 A certain woman whose vanity exceeded her looks had her picture taken by a local photographer, and when she went to view the proofs which had not been touched up to cover her flaws, she was noticeably disturbed. “These pictures do not do me justice,” she angrily flung at the photographer. “Lady,” he responded, “it isn’t justice you need; it’s mercy!”  The fact is that we are all in need of mercy, and like the woman, think that we are in better condition than we really are.

When Jesus delivered the series of blessings we call Beatitudes, one of them was, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Interestingly enough, the Bible mentions the word “mercy” over 370 times. This great, awesome God who created us is a God of mercy.  “Rich in mercy” is the phrase which Paul used (see Ephesians 2:4), and that fact stands in contradiction to pagan Gods whose wrath had to be satisfied, often with human blood.  Anthropologists are quick to tell you that the quality of mercy is never an attribute of pagan deities.

The Romans spoke of four great virtues:  wisdom, justice, temperance, and courage, but mercy was never included in the qualities that governed their lives.  To the contrary, the very image of a Roman legion was that of inflicting cruel punishment or justice.  Very reluctantly the Roman emperor gave the “thumb’s up” sign sparing the life of the vanquished in the arena, something which was supposed to be a generous act of mercy.

What place is there for mercy in our world today?  Frankly, there’s room for a lot more of it.  I’m thinking of a retired judge who was known for his involvement and kindness to those who came to his court.  As he slumped over in his automobile, the victim of a heart attack, by-passers quickly opened the car door, then removed his watch, gold ring, and wallet and left him to die.

I hardly expect mercy to be an attribute of the person who is in rebellion against God, but when it comes to the children of God, “like father, like son” should be the norm. God’s mercy extends from generation to generation, so says Luke 1:50, and as God touches a life and fills a believer’s heart with His presence, mercy is one of the attributes or characteristics of that life which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit.

Question:  Do you find that you rejoice more in justice than mercy?  None of us can really hope for more than mercy when it comes to what we deserve at the hand of the Almighty; therefore, we, in turn, must strive to reflect that attitude with our children, our business colleagues, our dealings with friends and associates.

Here’s the way Paul put it:  “Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice tenderhearted mercy and kindness to others….” (Colossians 3:12, LB).

A final thought:  While God’s mercy has been shown from generation to generation, there is an end to it.  Remember, at the flood God said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man.” Likewise, you will not find the word mercy in the book of Revelation, not even once.  Instead, you do find a generous outpouring of God’s wrath and justice.  But the door is still open. As Paul put it, “Anyone who asks for mercy from the Lord shall have it and shall be saved” (Acts 2:21, LB).  It is still true!


Resource reading: Matthew 7:13-23