Inexplicable Mercy and Grace

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.
-Daniel 9:9

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
-Romans 2:4

There’s no place except in God’s character where perfect justice and 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 daily according to his laws and be perfect and holy. Did you ever wonder what it would be like if this 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 exceeds our expectations. His compassion and forgiveness are over the top. We can’t view God’s mercy as the kind we impart meagerly and self-righteously to others. When we humans are merciful, it comes with all sorts of warnings, qualifications, and conditions. Our generosity never exceeds the limits of our goodness (which is usually somewhat limited, to begin with).

But true mercy takes seriously the gravity of sin and failure. It isn’t just ignoring evil. That isn’t mercy, anyway. That’s moral indifference. Mercy is God’s deep and abiding love and patience toward the creatures he made. It can be partly understood by loving parents who fully realize their child’s rebelliousness but still envision their loved ones (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 generations of Christian culture and theology have conditioned us to know him as merciful. 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 vast 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, as opposed to the same happening in our country where we see people rush to help. 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?

Absolutely not.

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 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 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) action as Merciful Judge is to gather us in his arms and say, “You’re 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 your arms wide to receive grace upon grace—the mercy, forgiveness, and healing power of your loving Father.

-Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash

John I. Snyder
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