Attributes of God: Mercy

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, August 7, 2015 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

The last two weeks, I have spoken about God’s justice and God’s holiness. They seem to contradict his love. But there is more to this picture. Yes, God is love. Yes, he is just. Yes, he is holy. But how can he be just and be loving? Part of the picture is that he is merciful. Mercy in a nutshell is “not giving someone something they deserve.” How can God be just and carry out the punishment for sin, and be merciful? Does not mercy mean he forgives the punishment?

Let us explore this. Many people have a very negative view of God because they read the Old Testament history and they see a God that is vengeful and full of hate. Then they look at the New Testament and see a God of “love and peace.” But when we look deeper, he is the same God. I’ll explore more of that when I discuss that God is immutable. But one thing I have noticed: when I read through the Old Testaments, I do see God carrying out justice, but I always see mercy in it.

There are numerous examples in Scripture where the people of a nation were in rebellion against God and he either did or was prepared to show mercy. Many will claim that God is a mass-murderer for killing numerous innocent people with the Flood. Were they innocent? That’s not what the Bible says in Genesis 6:1-8. It describes them as wicked, continually evil. But Noah found grace. He found God’s favor. And through Noah, God provided a way to escape the judgment. There were 120 years between when God said he would destroy all life on the earth and when the day of doom came. That was 120 years, and Noah preached a message of salvation and built an Ark to escape. But none except his family listened. There was plenty of room on the ark for more than eight people. But no one joined them.

Another example is Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleaded with God to spare the city, because he was thinking of Lot and his family. All God needed was ten people and Abraham was likely counting how many he thought might be righteous. Only four were found to be so. The cities were destroyed but God offered an opportunity of mercy. In another time, God was ready to wipe out Israel for their worship of the golden calf and start over with Moses. But Moses pleaded with God to not do that. Those are two examples of interceders. But what about repentant sinners?

We have Ahab when confronted after having Naboth murdered so he could get the vineyard for Jezebel. We have Josiah who led his people to repentance and staved off the judgment that was to come. We have Nineveh who repented with the preaching of Jonah. Over and over again, we see God longing to show his mercy.

While God is a just God, he does not wish for any of us to suffer his judgment. Peter confirms this in his second letter. God longs for us all to repent. He is long-suffering. What does that mean? He is patient. Patience in Scripture is the same word we get “tensile” from. Tensile is a physics and engineering term that describes how an object (like a spring) can be pulled or stretched and then revert back to its original position. We all endure things that make us uncomfortable. It is like attaching a weight to a spring. The amount of weight determines how much stretch in the spring there is. And if there comes to be too much weight, the spring will deform rather than revert back to its original form. But unlike springs, where the tensile strength is determined by the material it is made of, the tensile strength we have can change. That’s how we learn and grow. If we ask God for more patience, what does he give us? More opportunities to practice it.

God’s tensile strength is beyond what we can imagine. That is why he can have mercy, even when he decides that enough is enough. He will still carry out his judgment. He will still punish sin. But there is more. The whole time, God had a punishment prepared for sin and someone who would receive that punishment so we would not have to. The wages of sin are death. God cannot change that, lest he change himself and violate his character. But he knew how it would work out. He sent Jesus to receive those wages, but he had to be without sin. Jesus could not be guilty of the same crime: violating God’s Word. And by having Jesus pay the price, he was able to give us mercy.

But because we have received mercy, that does not let us off the hook to do whatever we want. God did not forgive our sin so that we could go off and sin more. I heard a story about a young man, a partier who was out for a joy ride. And just for a thrill, he took a frozen turkey and while hanging out his car window, he threw the turkey into the windshield of an oncoming car. The woman driving had severe injuries, partial paralysis, lacerations, and was in bad shape. In court, the young man showed repentance, knowing he faced life in prison. But the judge gave him an extremely light sentence. “That’s not fair! That’s not just!” someone would rightly say. However, the extremely light sentence was specifically requested not by the lawyers, but by the victim. That is the type of mercy God shows us.

This is also seen in Les Miserables. When Jean Valjean steals the spoons from the Bishop. When caught, the Bishop not only tells Jean that he gave them the spoons, but also the candlesticks. With that, the Bishop tells Jean to turn his life around and to not waste the gift he was given.

THAT is the type of mercy God gives. The kind where when we receive it, we will go and sin no more. That is what the woman caught in adultery experienced. Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But he followed it with “Go and sin no more.” God has given us more mercy that we can imagine. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. But he loves to give us mercy, to deal with us as a Father deals with his child, compared to a judge dealing with a criminal. He longs to keep the issues as “in house” rather than dealing with it in criminal court. Let us receive his mercy, but with that mercy, let us go out and sin no more. And let us give mercy to those who owe us. Our debt against God is far greater than any debt someone could owe against us. If God could forgive us, we can forgive them. We have received mercy; let us show mercy as well.

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