Friday, October 15

God's Mercy

God's mercy is another one of his attributes that comes from his goodness, and so it is also closely related to his love and grace. Mercy has to do specifically with God's characteristic attitude toward people who are in trouble. It is God's pity for those who are miserable or suffering or needy, and helpless in their situation; but it includes more than just a feeling of pity, for his mercy has his rescuing power behind it. Out of God's mercy he rescues from difficulty; out of his mercy he saves the powerless; out of his mercy he heals the sick. God's delivering activity toward the oppressed, the afflicted, the poor, and the fatherless are all described as coming from his mercy. Since all of his creation is so dependent upon him, the psalmist can say that "his tender mercies are over all his works (Psalm 145:9)."

Like all of God's attributes, God's mercy in intrinsic to him. He is called "the Father of mercies" and a "God of mercy" (2 Cor. 1:3, Neh. 9:17). His mercy is also abundantly great and boundless, higher than the heavens and filling the earth. Scripture refers to "the multitude of his mercies" (Lam. 3:32) because the acts stemming from this attribute are so numerous.

His mercy is eternal and unchanging. God's mercy is "from everlasting to everlasting" (Psalm 103:17) in the same way that God himself is from everlasting to everlasting. His mercies don't cease or fail, because they are new every morning (Lam. 3): constantly fresh and perfect and never fading with age. His mercy endures forever.

It is out of God's constantly enduring mercy that he brought His people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. They were helpless to save themselves, but God saw their desperate situation and redeemed them out of their trouble. From Psalm 136's recounting of God's merciful deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery, we learn one more thing about God's mercy:
To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn,
For His mercy endures forever;
And brought out Israel from among them,
For His mercy endures forever...
It's a bit of a jarring juxtaposition, isn't it? Out of God's mercy He rescued Israel, but the merciful deliverance of his people resulted from an act that was not kind toward the people of Egypt. His act of mercy toward one group of people was at the same time an act of severity toward another group of people. God's mercy, then, like his love and grace, is particular. While his people can count on his mercy never being turned from them, there are times when he is not merciful to some people.

His is sovereign and free in his mercy. The expression of his mercy is never compelled, but he expresses it because he delights in his mercy (Micah 7:18). To show mercy is his own choice according to his own purpose: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy." That God shows mercy toward us does not depend on our action or our desire, but on "God who has mercy." (Romans 9)

There is a tension in the truths of God's mercy that is important to maintain. While it is true that God is completely free in his acts of mercy, and that he acts mercifully according to his own purpose and as it fits his own plan, it is also true that those who seek his mercy always find it. He is always merciful to the truly repentant. If we confess, he faithfully forgives. We would not be correct in thinking that he is compelled to be merciful to us in response to our repentence--or to presume upon his mercy--but we are correct if we believe that our genuine repentence is always and certainly met with his willing and abundant mercy. (If you are reading this through for a second time, and you don't think you've read this paragraph before, you are probably right. This was added later in one of those after-the-post-but-still-stewing moments. This is one reason why I find these posts so difficult: there's always a big chance I'll leave out something really, really important.)

Although God's mercy is over all his works, delivering us from sin through Christ was the supreme act of God's mercy. It was because of God's tender mercy that Christ was incarnated to be our Savior (Luke 1:78). It was on the basis of God's mercy that he saved us from our state of helpless (and at the same time intransigent!) disobedience (Titus 3:3-5). The ultimate sacrifice of Christ, and all the saving actions of God on my behalf, come because God is "rich in mercy".
By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. (1 Peter 1:3,4 NET)
The surety of our inheritance and the new life we are born again into all come to us by way of God's mercy.

A first step toward understanding the true depth of God's mercy is understanding the depth of our own neediness. We are utterly without hope short of God's merciful activity on our behalf. Is it by recognizing that we come before God bringing nothing but our own sinfulness, just as the publican in the parable brought nothing when he prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 13:18)", that we get some glimpse of the abundant richness of God's mercy.

Because God has been merciful to us, we have reason to be merciful in our actions toward those who are in need. We must "be merciful, just as [our] Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36 NET)." Mercy is one of God's communicable attributes, meaning that he shares it with us and expects it from us. Just as our Father is moved to act by the plight of those in need, so too, those who are his children are motivated by mercy. The poverty of others--both material and spiritual--is our opportunity to be like our Father. Their trouble is our opportunity to help.

If we belong to him--if we are being delivered from sin because of God's mercy--we have a reason to be always and forever grateful to our heavenly Father. We should be singing right along with the psalmist, "I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever (Psalm 89:1)." Or with Horatio Spafford when he writes in his hymn, It Is Well with My Soul:

....Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

....Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

God's mercy is one of the grounds for our hope. It is out of God's mercy that we are "born again to a living hope," and we

....hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
(Psalm 130:7)

The Lord takes pleasure in those....who hope in His mercy.
(Psalm 147:11)