THE TAKE AWAY
By Kersley Fitzgerald
I was fuming, letting the annoyance grow into self-righteous anger. An acquaintance was being wrong and immature and affecting a group of us without so much as a by-your-leave. Irritation grew.
Through the course of a conversation with God, He brought up the concept of mercy. I realized we talk a lot about grace, but not so much about mercy. Grace is like heaping sunshine on someone who did nothing to deserve it. But mercy...that's harder.
I remembered some photos I'd just seen. Twenty years after one group of Rwandans tried to kill another, photographer Pieter Hugo chronicled stories of reconciliation. One offender and one victim. Usually the offender had killed the victim's family. But the victim extended forgiveness, and the results were heart-breaking.
Two dark men stand next to each other, one square to the camera, the other perpendicular, almost as if protecting the first. The one at an angle says:
Sometimes justice does not give someone a satisfactory answer — cases are subject to corruption. But when it comes to forgiveness willingly granted, one is satisfied once and for all.A man, head cocked away, stands next to a woman who stands stiff. A banana grove stretches behind them. The woman says:
I used to hate him. When he came to my house and knelt down before me and asked for forgiveness, I was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.A woman in an orange wrap stands next to a man in a purple-striped shirt. He explains that he killed her children. She responds:
Many among us had experienced the evils of war many times, and I was asking myself what I was created for. The internal voice used to tell me, ‘‘It is not fair to avenge your beloved one.'' It took time, but in the end we realized that we are all Rwandans. The genocide was due to bad governance that set neighbors, brothers and sisters against one another. Now you accept and you forgive. The person you have forgiven becomes a good neighbor. One feels peaceful and thinks well of the future.The last woman stands with crossed arms. A man tentatively rests a hand on her shoulder. He'd burned her house down. She says:
If I am not stubborn, life moves forward. When someone comes close to you without hatred, although horrible things happened, you welcome him and grant what he is looking for from you. Forgiveness equals mercy.I think she's right — at the heart of the entire reconciliation program was mercy.
Unger's Bible Dictionary says, "Mercy is a form of love determined by the state or condition of its objects. Their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving. Mercy is at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief." Mercy is the biblical response to a vacuum — either a lack of support or a lack of worthiness. Grace is a bit more neutral. Grace is a gift given to someone who doesn't deserve it. Mercy adds the condition that they desperately need it but they deserve the exact opposite.
Mercy in the Old and New Testaments has a slightly different flavor. In the Old Testament, it is the Hebrew racham or hesed. Racham always comes from a place of deep love; hesed, of course, means lovingkindness — love in action. The Greek eleeo focuses more on the recipient's need than the giver's character. It is help for the afflicted and the wretched. Several places (Matthew 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; Mark 10:47; Luke 17:13), people begged Jesus for mercy. His response was to lift them up, physically and spiritually, despite the fact they were born His enemy.
Jude verses 22-23 have an interesting take on mercy. He's talking about our response to the false teaching that will be prevalent in the End Times. He tells us to "have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh." We are exhorted to be deeply compassionate toward those who are deceived and confused, even as we separate from their sins and false beliefs. In 1 Timothy 1:13, Paul uses himself as an example of someone to whom God showed this same mercy.
Three verses later, in 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul says something interesting about mercy: "Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life." Mercy says nothing positive about the recipient. It is the manifestation of the character of Christ in the giver. When we have a chance to show mercy, we will only take it if our character is merciful — not because of anything the other person has done or can do to earn it.
Mercy is a characteristic of God and the motivation for God's kindness toward us. It is the reason He sent Jesus, and the reason Jesus went to the cross — actions that we deeply need but in no way deserve. It is only by accepting the mercy of God that we can have a reconciled relationship with Him and be saved.
As far as our ability to show mercy, Romans 12:8 says that mercy is one of the spiritual gifts. True mercy can only occur if it is empowered by the Holy Spirit. That takes a load off of us.
As it took a load off of me. I knew nothing that would give light to why my friend was being so aggravating. There was nothing I knew of that would justify his reaction. He was in a pit only mercy could reach.
So with God's love, the Spirit's power, and the knowledge of the mercy Jesus has extended to me, I reached. I forgave him unconditionally. And realized I needed mercy as much as he did.
Image Credit: Ronn aka "Blue" Alda Legless beggar close up — Bangkok; Creative Commons — I saw a man like this in Bangkok; he was older, far more shabby, and missing parts of his arms and hands as well. He crawled on his belly on the sidewalk, pushing a cup in front, on Sukhumvit Road in the Farang Ghetto, while everyone stepped around him. Humbling to think this is who we are in our sin without Christ's mercy.
Tags: Christian-Life | Jesus-Christ | Personal-Life | Personal-Relationships
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