mercy – compassion or forbearance shown to a powerless person, especially an offender or one with no claim to kindness.The Canadian Compact Oxford Dictionary, 2002.
The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the earth beneath.William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
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Mercy. Every convicted criminal hopes for it. Every school child “sent to the Office” appeals for it.
Mercy – most death-bed patients earnestly pray for it before they cross the final frontier.
For the 60-70% or so of Westerners (depending on the nation and even the region within a nation) still professing belief in some sort of God resembling the traditional Judeo-Christian idea of an infinite personal Being and Creator, the standard logic on the mercy of God goes something like this:
‘God is love. Therefore, He must be merciful, because really loving people are merciful and forgiving, right? A loving God will therefore not banish anyone to exile/hell or whatever other nasty place there might be. So when I die, I will automatically be accepted by God and live forever in a nice place filled with love. As to hell, God’s love would never have created such a thing in the first place. So mercy is automatic; all my nasty deeds and selfishness will be erased and forgotten, and, like in the Disney world, we all get to live happily ever after regardless of what we’ve done and how we’ve chosen to live here on earth.’
Many an atheist has been repulsed from the idea of God’s existence, let alone the religions that profess and uphold it, by the whole notion of judgment by a Maker who assesses our lives pronounces “Pass!” or “Fail!” Their revulsion is confirmed for them by every hell-fire and brimstone sermon they’ve (n)ever heard (mostly never in our current society), or even heard of, and by the record of God’s over-zealous human proselytizers condemning heretics and infidels to eternal damnation and temporal torture and repression. Too often, when it comes to how a “merciful God” is presented to doubters and sinners here in our flawed and suffering world, the “quality of mercy” has been strained indeed, in fact all but relegated to the back-room where only a select few seem to qualify to merit it.
No surprise that Jesus warned that, before his Second Coming, which his saying about cold love refers to, that “agape-love”, which demonstrates and embodies the unqualified mercy of God, would become a rare jewel even among those claiming to be his fervent followers.
In the original context of the words coming straight from Jesus, cold love refers to the fading away, the diminishing of agape in humankind. Besides relegating God to the last-ditch reserve bench in life, this includes how humankind behaves among themselves and towards the rest of creation. As we have noted before, agape is the highest form love takes: self-denying and sacrificial in its care and compassion, seeking no benefit from the object of the sacrificial caring. It rises above mere sentiment and mushy feelings of affection. In fact, it does not depend on them even being present, although if they are to some degree it helps make the giving and caring easier. Even the passion of sexual love cannot endure and overcome the tests and stresses that arise without agape to help the lovers get over the inevitable hurts and disappointments that come into every meaningful relationship.
The ultimate origin of agape is the Creator, who created all that exists purely out of His/Her own infinite agape. Creator did not have to make anything. Yahweh-Creator-God chose to create out of agape. God’s agape is His/Her desire to love and give love in infinite measure outside His/Her own self-sufficiency. At the height of the Creator’s creative activity, He/She created Humans to bear His/Her very image and likeness as a living, walking representative, a creating entity able to manifest the kind of nature the Creator has stamped within the very Cosmos itself, saturating it, putting the testimony of its origin everywhere.
Since the ancient rebellion of the first humans against the Creator’s intent, the presence of agape has often been lost, distorted, even forgotten. Hence, much of our energy has been wasted and twisted into destruction and misappropriation of the Creator’s good gifts. The rebellion was aimed at establishing human mastery over creation apart from serving the Creator. It has proven a tawdry substitute for the richness of enabling and enhancing the Creator’s goal to cause the Earth to flourish and reach its full potential to show the wonder and beauty of the Creator’s. (Glory means the full manifestation of the Creator’s intention brought into expression by the Creator’s commissioned stewards – us.) If God’s plan were adhered to, the humans would reach their own full potential as Creator’s appointed image-bearers, God’s living icons, so to speak.
Instead, in our self-proclaimed godhood, we have reaped destruction, decay, death, and alienation among ourselves, and have inflicted these same blights on the whole world.
The Christian Story says that the Creator-God did not sit back and shrug. Instead, speaking anthropomorphically, (S)He is deeply grieved, even distressed, and even angry. However, God’s ultimate response is mercy rather than wrath, although wrath has been allowed to fall. If we are willing to face our rebellion and defiance of God, we must see that, just as with human offenders in human society, there is an inevitable day when judgment finds the unrepentant transgressor. This is called “natural consequences”, and it applies in both the physical and metaphysical realm. It also comes as a legal requirement.
Without engaging in theological debate, history demonstrates that, with regard to respect for God and God’s creation, as well as for one another, we have justly deserved judgment more often than mercy. Most of the time, the Creator has just let us experience some more or less severe consequences of our actions. This can approximate Divine wrath in the hope that we may yet, even if only for a time, come mostly to our senses. But, if we are able to wrap our minds around it, we are also given Divine mercy even in the midst of what may well seem like wrath and judgment.
Consider how, all through our hegemony over this one and only Gem of a world we have been gifted with, we have chosen to rape and pillage it and slaughter one another to gain both group and personal ascendancy. Consider what this looks like from Creator’s perspective, especially when compared to what He/She made us for and intended us and all the rest of His/Her works here on Mother Earth to be. If any of us usurped our neighbour’s home and ransacked and destroyed all they had built, would we not cry out for redress, justice, and appropriate punishment? As politically and culturally incorrect the whole notion of “punishment” seems to have become in our burgeoning “Wokism”, punishment is sometimes the only recourse left.
As the one who made this wondrous world, the Creator planted us here in this “Garden” to “till and tend” it and make it flourish. Yahweh-I AM has every right to insist on justice – not only for what has been and is still being done to it all, but perhaps even more for what we have done and continue to do to one another.
The Christian Story says that, instead of just wiping us out, Yahweh the Creator sent Yeshua (Jesus), His/Her Son, the incarnation in human form of the Creator, to take the judgment on our behalf. That is why Yeshua commented that “mercy triumphs over justice”.
Thus, we have never yet been subjected to the full, terrible consequences of all the evil and wrong we have inflicted and continue to inflict upon one another and on our fellow creatures. It may not look like mercy at first glance, but imagine if God had never intervened to “cut those days short”, as Jesus once phrased it. We are told that “No flesh would have survived” if the Creator had not taken a hand to restrain the diabolical fury of humanity’s dark side run wild. That remains true.
Mercy triumphs over judgment. Imagine if the Nazis had won World War 2. “Impossible!”, you say. Not at all! It was a very near-run thing. Read Winston Churchill’ History of the Second World War sometime to get an inside picture. D-Day could very well have gone sidewise. Hitler’s armies came within a hair of taking down the Soviet Union in 1941. Etc. Tens of millions died, a toll so terrible that we forget that it could have been many millions more. It was Divine mercy that it was not. In 1940, Churchill publicly called it a “war to save Christian civilization” and he meant it. The Nazis intended to extinguish Christianity, as well as Judaism. It was not just Churchillian rhetorical flourish to rally the people.
Time and again this has been so. The Book of Genesis tells the stories of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah as two examples. The Book of Exodus tells the same story of deliverance from rebellion and its consequences in the context of Israel, followed by the multiple episodes recounted in Judges.
The other side of this oft-repeated story is that, at some point, even the infinite Creator’s patience seems to run out. Thus, ancient Israel and Judah (the two Kingdoms set up by the Israelites following their liberations from Egypt and then from the numerous oppressors from neighbouring kingdoms – see the Book of Judges in the Bible) eventually must reap the final consequences and are wiped out by the neighbouring superpowers of Assyria and Babylon.
Mercy is always to be hoped for, but judgment will also fall on the day when mercy can no longer find a perch.
Paradoxically, agape demands it because agape is always married not only to mercy, but to justice. God’s agape is given freely, but it is granted at great cost.
TO BE CONTINUED