The Bible is not the inerrant word of God… that is not an opinion. That is fact. The Bible was written over the centuries by people who wanted to record the faith stories of people we know of as the Jews, the Hebrews or the Israelites. It was about their growing relationship with God, their continuing evolution of understanding of the Divine. It was their attempt to convey that knowledge, relationship and understanding in words and stories.
Within their ancient understanding, God was responsible for all the good that they were blessed with, and God was responsible for the bad that came their way. Their believed God could manipulate life and death, peace and war. God could be generous and merciful, or God could be vengeful and punishing. Given all this, it was appropriate and even necessary for the people of that time to pray, beg and plead with God to go easy on them, to forgive them and have compassion on them… in other words to be merciful to them.
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Exodus 33:19 sums up how they believed God operated when it came to mercy. In the passage God says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” God appears to be very capricious in nature in this ancient worldview.
Mercy is mentioned anywhere between 130 and 230 times in the Bible, depending on which translation you look at. Here’s a sampling, according to Scripture:
- God exterminated the Northern Kingdoms “without mercy” (Joshua 11:20)
- God had no mercy on the babies or children of Babylon (Isaiah 13:18)
- Jeremiah declared that God would not allow mercy or compassion to keep God from destroying the king of Judah and all who were associated with him. (Jeremiah 13:14)
- In Zechariah God withheld mercy from Jerusalem for 70 years. (Zechariah 1:12)
- God is merciful to Lot and his daughters, even if not to Lot’s wife (who turns to salt) or to Sodom and Gomorrah, which is destroyed (Genesis 19)
- Nehemiah 9:31 says God is gracious and merciful
- In Deuteronomy 4:31 God is a merciful God who will not destroy or abandon you
- The Psalms speak over and over again of God’s merciful nature, but also cry out over and over again for mercy
Does God actually make a decision to be merciful or not merciful? Does God choose to love or not to love? to be compassionate or not?
I personally don’t think so (you, of course, are free to disagree with me). It seems to me that none of those choices are even possible for God. To be unloving, uncompassionate or unmerciful is to be unGod.
When a tragedy happens and someone says,“Lord, have mercy,”Does that mean God is not being merciful to the victims of natural disaster, death, illness, poverty or war? Do we have to ask, plead, beg or pray for God to have mercy? Does it mean that God somehow had control of that fire? Or that hurricane? Or that illness? Or that war? Or that life? Or that outcome?
Again, I don’t think so.
Mercy is not what God I(when God feels like it)… mercy is what God is. And mercy is what we do when we are connected at a deeper spiritual level to life around us.
The evolution of spiritual thought that Jesus tries to draw people to is that when we have true knowledge of God, we KNOW that God is and has always been merciful. What God then desires of us – or what that true knowledge will lead us to – is being merciful ourselves.
Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 when God says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifices.” So, what does it mean? God doesn’t want or need our insincere worship (or back then, sacrifices). Don’t put on a good face claiming to know what the Divine wants. If you truly had experience of Divine love, grace, mercy and compassion, then you, too, would act in the same way. You would show mercy. You would be gentle even to those who did not deserve it.
As Anne Lamott says in Hallelujah Anyway, “Marcy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolveable, forgiving the unforgiveable.” It would be miraculous!
I read a very profound statement somewhere: “Mercy without action is pity and action without mercy condescension.”
The legend of the Holy Grail has it that one day Sir Launfal rode off determined to find the Grail, the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. On his way out of the city, he came upon a beggar who was desperate for a little money so that he might eat. Launfal, knowing what the church expected of him but at the same time filled with derision for this lowly man, sneered at him, looked with contempt, and while still on his horse, tossed a few gold coins at the beggar’s feet. Despite his ravenous hunger, the beggar knew himself to be a human being, loved in the eyes of God. He refused the money. Launfal went on his way devoting years of his life in the pursuit of the Grail he never found.
There was no spiritual transformation for Sir Launfal, no compassion, no understanding, no true mercy. Simply doing what the church “expected” of him did nothing to make him, or another human being, more whole.
John Shea, in his book Gospel Light tells this story, “At a court trial Lei Yuille, an African-American woman, explained why she and her brother helped Reginald Denny, the fallen white truck driver, during the April 1992 riots in LA. They were watching a television newscast “reporting live” and saw Reginald Denny being beaten. “My brother was in the room. He looked at me and said, ‘We are Christians; we’ve got to help him out.’ I said, ‘Right.’” Then they got into their car and went to help the injured man.
As Shea points out, “Spiritual teachers stress that the flow of mercy is not the result of reasoned argument. It happens naturally when a deeper identity is realized.” When we remember our common humanity and our spiritual oneness, mercy emerges naturally.
Mercy is not just something “bad” people need. Mercy is something we all need to receive and to give, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Mercy acknowledges that we screw up, but that love is a higher order. Mercy calls us to remember that we don’t know all the factors in anyone else’s life, nor are we fit to judge. Mercy reminds us that we all have bad days, make mistakes, say the wrong thing, but we don’t need to spend our lives berating ourselves or beating ourselves up for it.
Lamott once said, “You can either practice being right or practice being kind.”
Love & Light!