Loving Mercy: Triumph over Judgment

The book of James, known for a message of works demonstrative faith and instruction in righteous living also provides an ambitious appeal to mercy. James 2:13 “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James was a man of fervent and frequent prayer; he closes his letter with an appeal to prayer and confession and suggests that prayers of faith will be answered. In his first chapter he states that doubting or double-mindedness is not characteristic of genuine faith. From there, he addresses issues of unrighteousness within the church and speaks to contradictory ways of living life as well as unfounded condemnation of the life of others.

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Mercy is funny though because God and James make it out to be something that is up to our discretion. The benefit is, in showing mercy one will reap mercy. Somehow in withholding the judgment that is due, there is triumph over judgment itself.

 

5 or so years ago I received a prophetic word over my life that I’ve been half hoping wasn’t true yet have half embraced. The prophet said to me “You love righteousness more than you love people and you need a mercy girl (woman) to balance you out.” While I’ve interpreted those words differently since then, it seems to me now like this was his kind and gentle way of saying, “You want people to get what they deserve, you’d rather wrongs be righted than give compassion to most situations, you’d rather see people changed by God’s grace (getting what they don’t deserve) rather than fall in love with His mercy (not getting what they do deserve). This needs to be fixed and perhaps the only way this can be fixed is if you spend a lot of time with someone who loves to demonstrate mercy on a daily basis.” That was a long interpretation, but it seems most true.

When I sin, I judge myself harshly. I expect judgment to change people and myself because mercy seems so passive and the fruit is hard to see. To judge between right and wrong is so much easier than withholding judgment in hope of someone’s heart softening. Yet Jesus implores religious leaders to go and find out what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” He says, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” Micah 6:8 says, “Love mercy.” In other words, learn to love enduring wrong and trusting in God to make it right by forgiving. It’s God’s passive passion. I want to know it and to know it so well that I show it.

 
I formerly embraced almost solely the part about a mercy girl because I wanted to marry a nice person hoping I really already loved people and myself with gentleness and compassion. Now my hope is that I would love mercy more than I love righteousness so I would have a genuine love for all people and myself. I want to accept the fact that God withholds judgment from me because He is confident that I can do better as His child. He wants to see me victorious in Christ. Mercy triumphs over judgment because it is the only thing that can triumph over judgment. Our righteousness cannot triumph. Christ’s perfect righteousness and perfect blood allows Him to show mercy by taking the punishment I deserved. This is why I’m still learning to love mercy.

Loving Mercy: Remembered in Wrath

Nobody likes to think of God angry.  Yet if not for His anger and his sense of justice, there would be no need for mercy. God allows His emotions to be affected by humanity. It shows that he is not cold and that He may show compassion. Habakkuk 3:2 is an appeal from a prophet to God that “in Your wrath remember mercy.” God of course does not forget mercy.

However, the mercy of God takes on various forms. 2 Samuel chapter 24 is a story where David is incited to take a census and the prophet Gad tells David there will be judgment for it. When David is asked to choose the judgment, David defers to God to choose either famine or pestilence. David says, “Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great.” In the midst of inevitable judgment David trusts God to be merciful. That day mercy looked like the death of 70,000 men. In the New Testament, Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira are struck down because they lied to the Holy Spirit and lied to themselves. Some scholars suggest that it was an act of mercy for God to destroy their bodies for the sake of the preservation of their souls. Both stories demonstrate a mercy in the midst of wrath.

lionandlambUp to this point, I have discussed primarily the mercy of God.  We live in the midst of a culture that is saturated by a hyper-grace message that insists, “God give us what we don’t deserve and give us more prosperity and more health.” We often neglect even a moderate message of mercy which would say, “God withhold anything that would stand in the way of our affections for you. (judgment and idols included)” It is important for us to remember that God gives grace and shows mercy on His terms not ours.

But what about a kind of mercy that humanity might show? To not give someone what they deserve can be demonstrated in opportunities for violence and hurt. Jesus says things like, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy,” “Turn the other cheek,” and “Love your enemies.” Enemies deserve to be treated as such, someone who strikes you deserves to be struck back, yet the God of the gospel loves his enemies. He doesn’t defend himself. The apostles faced martyrdom rather than fighting back. A mercy that is remembered in wrath must cause us to wrestle with decisions about the ethics of war, whether churches should exalt military service, and to frequently call into the question the justice purported by the empire. On a small scale it should require us to question why we discard people that are useless to us, hold grudges, and take people to court.

The reality is mercy is not used in rhetoric because mercy requires us to not give someone what is due to them and to withhold from people what they want for their own good. For humanity it is far more difficult to show mercy than to exercise judgment. No one’s impulse shouts mercy. That’s why instead of shouting and demanding our sense of justice, we should wait to embrace mercy as mercy embraces us. Mercy requires the time it takes to remember. The result…

 

 

 

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Loving Mercy: Despite Delayed Promises

chris-e-promiseGod is good; God cares about His Honor. Since nothing can be taken away from God, when man tries to compromise God’s honor, something is taken away from man. For Moses and Aaron a lack of trust disqualified them from leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Instead of speaking to a rock, Moses spoke with anger towards God’s people. Aaron didn’t stop him, thus Aaron dies shortly after this incident. In Numbers chapter 20, Moses’ sister Miriam and his brother Aaron die and he is disqualified from completing what he set out to do.promise_day_02

From the outside looking in, this does not appear merciful. God had previously shown mercy to both Aaron and Miriam in Numbers chapter 12 when they spoke against Moses. 8 chapters later a lot has changed. They are gone and Moses is expected to trudge on until the end of his wilderness journey. But there is a consolation, an exceedingly merciful consolation. Moses, despite a delayed promise, still enjoys the fellowship and presence of God. Moses is still led by God even if his destination is no longer the Promised Land.

Hebrews 11:39-40 reads “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Why does God delay or withhold promises? It is for the purpose of testing faith and for the perfecting of His Church. Truthfully, the disobedience and dishonor we have shown God should mean something much worse than a delayed promise or a seemingly unsuccessful earthly mission. Yet God delays the promise so that we learn to love the One who issues the promise more. This is mercy. God’s mercy is typically found in withholding judgment but it can realistically withhold anything for the sake of enlivened relationship.

God delays in punishment so that those would turn to him in repentance. God may withhold a “revival” so that we would desire Him more than the out-workings in which we hope. Those things I feel are promises from the Lord to shape my hope; they shape who I am, but I continue to see God withhold things I have desired most to test my faith and devotion. In those times I witnessed my devotion falter only to be reminded of His faithfulness. God in his mercy says “At times I won’t give you what you deserve or desire because I love you.” Of all the things that God withholds, He always seems to want to hold my heart if I let Him. As He holds he sees all the other externals, the dangers and desires, and is jealous in saying “I cannot let that _______ defile this heart, this heart which I have softened which I cherish, which is bending toward me.” In a delayed promise is a present mercy and in the eyes of God, mercy is far better.

 

 

Loving Mercy: Into Thick Darkness

DarknessMercy is my favorite Bible word. Some would say that mercy differs from grace because grace deals with giving for the sake of love while mercy deals with withholding something. After all, to be merciful typically means to not give someone what they deserve. Mercy does not mean withholding love or affection, rather it is withholding something usually punishment, to better demonstrate love. Mercy is God not treating us as our sins deserve. Yet if I am honest with myself God is terrifying because of the things He withholds. Yes, every good and perfect gift is from above, this is one way he demonstrates his grace, but also from above comes the things that he refuses to give or reveal and the things he removes or takes away for the sake of his love. In God’s discipline, mercy is present in sparing us from a mostly self-inflicted judgment that would have left us much worse off.
For today though the question of how God can both be terrifying yet merciful is on my mind. In Exodus 20:19-21, God had just given Moses the Ten Commandments, and after thunder, lightning, a trumpet blast, and smoke coming off a mountain, the people are rightly afraid. It reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her companions are confronted by the not so great or powerful Oz and are standing, trembling before him while listening. That is until the cowardly lion takes off running down the corridor and jumps out a window.
The people stay at a distance not wanting to hear directly from God while Moses is willing to stand and listen before His presence. Yet Moses says to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” I don’t know if you notice the contradiction but Moses says don’t be afraid when you’re supposed to afraid so you won’t sin. The people remain, while Moses approaches the thick darkness where God was. This is a curious thought. 1 Timothy 6:16 says God lives in unapproachable light; in Exodus, God is in approachable thick darkness. From the thunder to the lightning to the smoke to the thick darkness, it all seems intentionally terrifying.
They should be scared, but why isn’t Moses? The difference could be that Moses knows God is full of mercy. God makes himself approachable in a darkness that Moses can’t see through or past or even into. The only thing Moses knew was that God was in the darkness and that God in the midst of darkness is merciful. The knowledge of mercy tempered fear enough to approach God boldly. Mercy should have the same effect on the Christian. One can approach God even when everything before them seems dark. Although that in itself can be difficult.
At least in Egypt when the people were enslaved, and at least when we were enslaved by sin and other passions we could see what was coming next. At least when we disobeyed we had an idea of the consequences. Here walking towards God in obedience sometimes means you only get to hear his voice, not a guarantee of what’s in store next. If you know the story of Moses you know leading the people was the furthest thing from easy or full of light. Yet because of God’s mercy I’m not sure that difficulty mattered. That’s the discussion for next time.