The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
There’s no other place except in God’s character where both perfect justice and perfect mercy are balanced. We can’t try to measure his grace and mercy, or any other part of his personality, by our standards or experience—there is no other example on earth of such fairness!
A holy and perfect God doesn’t have to be merciful. He could administer his justice every day according to his laws and be perfect and holy. Did you ever wonder what it would be like if this really were the case? Imagine this: Put together a perfect God, a fallen and imperfect humanity, and nothing but justice (getting what we deserve for our crimes) every minute of every day. Doesn’t that sound like misery and bondage? It is.
We learn from the Bible that God’s mercy goes beyond any of our expectations. His compassion and forgiveness is over the top. We can’t view God’s mercy as the kind we parcel out ever so modestly and self-righteously to others. When we humans are merciful, it comes with all kinds of warnings, qualifications, and conditions. Our generosity never goes beyond the limits of our goodness (which is usually rather limited to begin with).
But true mercy takes seriously the gravity of sin and failure. It isn’t just turning a blind eye to evil. That isn’t mercy anyway, that’s moral indifference. Mercy is the deep and abiding love and patience of God toward the creatures he made. It can be partly understood by loving parents who fully realize the rebelliousness of their child, but who still envision their loved one’s (ever so slowly) coming to maturity.
Just like petulant children, we complain that God should give us a break, or do this or that for us, only because we’ve been conditioned by generations of Christian culture and theology to know him as merciful. This is one more example that we’re pretty well spoiled. The gods of the ancient civilizations were considered not merciful by nature. So no one could complain that they were acting out of character when people believed them to be capricious, cruel, or unconcerned.
There is a huge difference between a culture built on God’s grace and mercy and one that is not. This truth hits home when we in our travels have the unfortunate experience of seeing someone hit by a speeding car and left there for hours, bleeding to death. It suddenly dawns on us that we can’t take mercy for granted. It doesn’t just automatically pop into existence out of nothing. People tend to behave like the gods they worship.
And what a relief for us! God is merciful.
Do we have a right to demand mercy from God?
If all we ever got were his perfect justice (the worst anyone will ever get), we still would have no grounds for complaining that God was unfair. What isn’t obligatory of a perfect God, just so happens to be part of his character.
He doesn’t have to be, but he is. And that means we can live life with the confidence that whatever we get ourselves into, there really is a court of appeals in session twenty-four hours a day where mercy is not the exception, but the main order of the day. God’s favorite (but never required) function as judge is to say, “I’ve chosen to show mercy. You’re totally forgiven, your list of offenses has been expunged from the record, and you’re free to go.”
This Lent rather than just giving up something (you can if you want to), open wide your arms to receive grace upon grace—the mercy, forgiveness, and healing power of your loving Father.