For some reason, it feels a bit like cheating, piggy-backing off of some thoughts from a book. The past two summers the college group at church as done a book club so every week we read a chapter from the book and then discuss it. This practice has been hugely influential for me in my faith as I ponder new ideas with my brothers and sisters. But there is nothing new under the sun so I feel somewhat safe continuing.
A few weeks ago, we were reading the chapter in the book that was all about God’s compassion and graciousness proclaimed in Exodus 34.
And I found it interesting that these qualities of God (compassion and graciousness) can also be translated to mean mercy, a word that is related but still distinctly different from the synonym.
This, for some reason, got me thinking about those words you’ve used so many times in a term paper that you end up looking for the fanciest synonym to replace it a few times. After all, you have to make sure your professor thinks you look smarter than you are.
Or at least that your vocabulary is more robust than it is.
Admit it. You’ve done it.
While technically there are similarities, there are also important discrepancies that give each word a specific identity, a unique identity that changes how we interpret the surrounding words and the overall meaning.
Language and semantics are complicated and messy. And I love it.
And mercy has some complicated and messy connotations, if you will. On the positive side of the coin, I think everyone would agree that mercy is a wonderful thing that we love to be applied to us in great abundance. We love the moments where we scrape through by the skin of our teeth and barely avoid what we had coming for us and sigh a relieved “That was a close one.”
When the police officer lets you off with a warning, when someone seems to believe the lie or half-truth you nervously squeaked out, or when gossip gets back to the “gossipee” and she chooses to let it slide, your relief fills the atmosphere and sits heavy like humid Oklahoma-summer air. Your body tingles with the adrenaline of “phew.”
But the word “mercy” is a double-edged sword. Because in any situation in which mercy is doled out there is a certain amount of baggage that preceded it.
There’s a reason that we receive mercy and never is it a response to good.
Mercy is not a response to perfection. It’s a response to our shortcomings, to our missing of the mark, to our flat out defiance and rejection to Perfection.
Mercy is not a response to good but a response that labors to bring good out of bad.
Because we all know receiving mercy is wonderful, but giving it…not so much. Giving mercy is a labor and much like forgiveness it is something you have to choose day after day after day after day. Mercy is not only forgiving someone the moment they wrong you, but also it is overlooking that wrong the next day and the next day and the next week and the month after that and so on.
That is hard, backbreaking, spiritual labor…
…because if you’re anything like me, forgiveness in the moment is trivial. It’s like that tough workout that as the day goes on the pain fades. But wake up the next morning and your heart is screaming with anguish and frustration and confusion. And all you want to do is give that person a piece of your mind and rip them a new one.
I’ve probably just struck a deep cord in everyone who reads this. I’d almost be willing to bet that all of you instantly pictured someone in your mind. Because that’s how hard mercy is.
And our God doles that out
Nothing we have in this life or the next have we earned. We like to think we deserve all the good things that come our way. We like to think our blessings are a result of our works…or at least that a portion of them are because we were good. But if I’m speaking honestly, our blessings are all colored by a tinge of mercy’s hue.
Blessings are more than just presents or God saying, “I just thought I’d do a nice thing. Just because.” Every good thing we have in life is probably a peace offering from God, Him saying, “I forgive you. Now let Me show you so you can come to Me and know Me.”
The author of Lamentations was inspired to proclaim this very truth in chapter 3.
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Changing our view of blessings to mercies could be life changing. Like eternal life changing. It could mutate the very spiritual DNA that has been evolving in us since we became a New Creation.
Changing how we forgive others.
Changing how we approach the Father. May this draw us closer to Him.