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.
Up 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…