What Ever Happened to Mercy? - Radical

What Ever Happened to Mercy?

As you think about the circles you run in as a Christian, what attributes of God seem to be ignored or downplayed today?

My guess is that God’s wrath, his holiness, or his righteousness come to mind. All those are probably true, and they are evidence of the low view of God that seems so common, even among professing Christians. This is why we highlighted God’s holiness last week. However, has it dawned on you that by downplaying God’s holy character we inevitably undermine his mercy?

If I assume that God approves of whatever I’m doing, then what need is there for mercy? After all, mercy assumes that some punishment is deserved, and that judgment is withheld. We may ask God to bless us, help us, or guide us–all of which we should pray for–but it’s much less common to hear the words of the tax collector in Luke 18:13, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” To downplay God’s mercy is to miss a fundamental aspect of who he is. And as the psalmist reminds us, God’s mercy is “over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9).

Mercy is at the Core

When God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, he began by proclaiming himself to be “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious . . .” (Exodus 34:6). There was more to this revelation, but we cannot miss the fact that mercy gets at the core of who God is. He is the God who condescends to redeem his people and to make a covenant with them. Without such mercy, a holy God could never join himself to us in love; judgment would be the only option. To know God, then, is to know him as merciful.

Our Only Hope

In order to make God’s mercy more concrete, consider your own conversion. You were dead in sin, and the only reason that wasn’t the end of the story is because of God’s “great love,” and because he is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). Or as Peter says, you have been born again according to God’s “great mercy” (1 Peter 1:3). Instead of judging you, Christian, God chose to lay the punishment on his only Son. By the power of the Spirit, God’s mercy brought you into the Christian life. But, thankfully, that’s not where mercy ends.

A Daily Need

God’s mercies are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). They greet us like the sunrise, assuring us that today’s sins will be no match for God’s forgiveness. Whether our sin is as glaring as King David’s with Bathsheba, and we have to cry out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1), or whether it’s just the daily defilement of selfish thoughts, twisted desires, and ten thousand other sins, we need mercy. And, by God’s grace, it is available to those who are in Christ.

So as you think about God and what he is like, don’t forget that he is holy, righteous, and just. These are foundational attributes. But, if you belong to Christ, these foundational attributes should remind you of your need for another foundational attribute of God–his mercy. Without it, we have no hope.

For more on God’s attributes, see Secret Church 4, “Who is God?

David Burnette serves as the Chief Editor for Radical. He lives with his wife and three kids in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves as an elder at Philadelphia Baptist Church. He received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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