In spite of our many differences, there is one reality that unites us all: imperfection. Admit it: you mess up continually; and so do I– which wouldn’t be such a big deal if we weren’t surrounded by other people. But the fact is that when we act selfishly or foolishly more often than not, those we love get hurt.
We’ve all been wronged before and we know exactly what follows. We are immediately faced with a choice: do we seek justice or extend mercy? Often, our initial reaction is justice– somebody needs to pay, after all, right? And yet God calls us to lead with mercy. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Scripture gives us two good reasons to choose mercy: First of all, we are to trust in God’s justice– it’s a trust issue. This option feels uncomfortable, though, because we fear that if we are merciful to someone, they will simply get away with it.
God is quite clear on this issue, however: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18) In fact, He goes one step further by assuring us that, in the end, justice will be done. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the LORD” (Deuteronomy 32:35) So the real question becomes: Can we take God at His word? Can we trust Him to make things right?
Aside from trusting in God, there is a selfish reason to be merciful. The truth is, it’s in our best interest to forgive and extend mercy because before long we will need mercy ourselves. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) It would be rather hypocritical of us to refuse to extend mercy to those who have wronged us, while at the same time demanding it as soon as the tables are turned.
In the end, however, the main reason that we are called to be merciful is quite simple: God is merciful. One characteristic of God that sets Him apart from all others is that He never asks us to do something that He is not willing to do Himself. He is not like the Great and Powerful Oz who projected a fearsome persona to intimidate, nor is He like the gods of ancient Greece who lived a life of ease, looking down upon helpless mortals with disdain. No, our God is different — and vastly so: He is a God of mercy and compassion.
In fact, He does not just show mercy to those who deserve it, as we are inclined to do, “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;” (Daniel 9:9)
One of the more compelling examples of God’s mercy in the Old Testament can be found in Isaiah chapter 1, where we find the Israelites walking in rebellion against God by living openly sinful lives. He responds this way:
“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18)
Although He had every right to judge the children of Israel for their rebellion, He offered them a clean slate instead! Have you ever felt like you were beyond the reach of mercy? Turn to God. You might be surprised by what you find.
Christ is both our mercygiver and our example- He leads with mercy… and asks us to do the same.