Have We Forgotten About Mercy?

According to the Barna Research Group, 87% millennials who don’t go to church say they see Christians as judgmental.[1] And they aren’t wrong. Many of the most outspoken people who identify as Christians buy into the idea that speaking condemnation will somehow turn a sinner to God. But scripture declares otherwise. God made mercy His catalyst for repentance.[2]
Mercy means to have compassion or forgiveness for someone who should be punished or could be treated harshly.[3] When you are angry, you may want hurt the one who hurt you. But if you have mercy, you don’t blame, shame, or punish, even if they deserve it. Mercy is undeserved forgiveness given at the will of the one, usually in authority, who has been wronged. If it is deserved, it is not mercy. Mercy sets the wrongdoer free from the fear punishment.[4] As Jesus said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”[5]
 
Mercy does not mean pretending nothing is wrong. It doesn’t condone evil, but it turns anger away from a person and towards the wrongdoing. If we have compassion for those under our care, we point out wrongdoing, explain why it’s wrong, and what it cost.[6] We help them to see the consequences without condemnation. We take the cost upon ourselves, not demanding anything of the other person whether payment or payback.

Jesus shared this parable about mercy.[7]

A king decided to collect the money his servants owed him.  One servant owed him thousands of dollars. He was not able to pay the king. So the king ordered that the servant and everything he owned be sold, even his wife and children. The money would be used to pay the king what the servant owed.
 
But the servant fell on his knees and begged, ‘Be patient with me. I will pay you everything I owe.’  The king felt sorry for him. So he told the servant he did not have to pay. He let him go free.
 
Later, that same servant found another servant who owed him a hundred dollars. He grabbed him around the neck and said, ‘Pay me the money you owe me!’

The other servant fell on his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me. I will pay you everything I owe.’
 
But the first servant refused to be patient. He had the servant put in jail until he could pay everything he owed.  When the other servants saw what happened, they told the king everything that happened.
 
Then the king called his servant in and said, ‘You evil servant. You begged me to forgive your debt, and I said you did not have to pay anything! So you should have given that other man who serves with you the same mercy I gave you.’  The master was very angry, so he put the servant in jail to be punished. And he had to stay in jail until he could pay everything he owed.

                            
Like the servant, as we have received mercy, so we are called to give mercy. Every wrong done to us provides an opportunity for us to demonstrate judgment or mercy. Mercy is better. Mercy triumphs over judgment.[8]

Having mercy on others builds them up in love.[9] It tells them that your love and acceptance are not based on their behavior. On the contrary, we who are humble recognize that we share in their feelings, having been tempted and made poor choices ourselves.[10] We too struggle against desires to do evil and know how it feels.[11] 
 
Love is made perfect by mercy. And the one who is forgiven much loves much in return.[12]
 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor who had compassion for those being treated harshly, and so he died standing up against the Nazis. He shared this about mercy:

He gave me comfort, forgave all my errors and did not find me guilty of evil. When I was his enemy and did not respect his commandments, he treated me like a friend. When I did him wrong, he returned to me only goodness. I can hardly fathom why the Lord loves me in this way, why I am so dear to him. I cannot understand how he managed to and wanted to win my heart with his love, all I can say is: ‘I have received mercy.” [13]
 
[1] The Barna Research Group and The Fermi Project, “A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity,” September 2007.

[2] Romans 2:4, Romans 12:1-2                                                   

[3] Matthew 5:3-10

[4] I John 4:18, Hebrews 4:16

[5] Matthew 9:13, Matthew 12:7

[6] Matthew 18:15

[7] Matthew 18:23-34

[8] James 2:3

[9] Luke 7:47

[10] Romans 3:23

[11] Ephesians 2:1-4, Romans 7:15-25, Hebrews 4:15

[12] Luke 7:47

[13] La fragilità del male, raccolta di scritti inediti” By Dietrich Bonhoffer

– Excerpts from my new book, “Parenting in Christ: Lessons from the Parables” 

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2 Comments

  1. Larry Noland says:

    Great post. But, I do believe that we as Christians are called to judge another brother (or sister) who is living in sin. With, Christian love and not condemning them.
    Thanks!

    1. Christina Dronen says:

      I think we are called to judge each other’s behavior and to call fellow Christians into repentance and right living – but yes, absolutely with love. It would be unloving to allow someone to continue in destructive living without trying to guide them back to truth, health, and right living.

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