“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” (Abraham Lincoln). Given that “Honest Abe” Lincoln was noted for truthfulness and integrity, that’s a pretty strong commendation for the value of mercy, and his assessment wasn’t unprecedented. In the Old Testament, we’re taught that God himself, the supreme judge over all the earth, is merciful (1), and that He desires us to be merciful (2).
So, what is mercy, how does it square with justice and the law, and why should we be merciful? “Mercy” comes from Anglo-French “merci” (which we think of as “thank you”) and Latin “merc” (“merchandize”) meaning “price paid; wages.” To show mercy is to extend forgiveness and grace to someone who has wronged us when it is within our power and right to punish them for misconduct, or more generically, it is “the compassionate treatment of those in distress” (Merriam Webster).
I doubt there’s anyone who would denounce mercy as “bad,” but strict moralists often cannot square mercy with justice. Moral radicals usually demand justice without mercy for those who fail to keep the law perfectly (be it the Ten Commandments, Shiraiah Law, or the requirements of any religious or governmental system). It is the oppressive “keep our laws or die” philosophy that makes life unbearably difficult for many people around the world.
One of the unique beauties of Christianity is the fact that our God is a God of great mercy and compassion (see verses listed below), but He also completely satisfies the requirement of justice. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that God can be both just and merciful. When we come before the judgment seat of Christ, we can say “Mercy! Thank you! The price for my sins has been paid by Jesus Christ!”
Sound too good to be true? It’s not! It’s the transcendent plan of our almighty, all loving God who has made a way for each of us to receive mercy and grace from his hand rather than the punishment we deserve for failing to keep His perfect laws!
Why should we show mercy to others who hurt and offend us? I’m not sure on what basis unbelievers choose to be merciful, but for me, it’s because I love God and want to please him . . . to be like him . . . to keep his commandments and extend the goodness and mercy I’ve received from him to others.
Have you experienced God’s mercy? Doesn’t it make you want to share his compassion and love with those around you?
Below are ten of my favorite verses on mercy from the Bible gleaned from hundreds. May our meditations be sweet! “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
“For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Psalm 86:5
“The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).
“All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).
“For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
“God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah” (Psalm 67:1).
“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” ( Proverbs 3:3).
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Text for this meditation: Luke 6:35-36, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.“
(1) “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17).
(2) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).