I’ve been thinking a lot about mercy lately and how desperately I need it; how much I’ve come to rely on it. I know that when I humbly approach the Mercy Seat and allow my wretchedness to be exposed before the Creator of Heaven and Earth, I am welcomed, accepted, and loved with a love that is infinite, patient, and indulgent. It is a love that exists for us who may not have been disposed to receive it, those of us who continually struggle to be accepted in family, in the job place—in the world in general; those of us who cannot seem to “catch a break” and battle addiction in one form or another, those of us who wrestle with demons of every kind and cannot, even when presented with a way out, cannot or will not accept it because we believe we are un-savable; that our sins are too great; that we deserve the hell we live in.
The mercy I’ve not only come to know, but to adore with every fiber of my being is one where “words are important, but the gesture is explicit.”
The God of Mercy keeps showing up, keeps listening, keeps fighting for me. He meets me where I am. He speaks to me in a language that I understand. He doesn’t give up on me. Times when I have been unfaithful to Him, He has remained faithful to me. Times when it would be fitting to chastise me, condemn me, punish me; He, instead shows me grace and mercy—forgiveness.
At some point in my life, I came to believe God was a God of love and mercy, one of grace and forgiveness, but I never felt worthy of Him and struggled to accept the very things I craved and needed most in my life. The church I grew up in was one characterized as a “Fire and Brimstone” Baptist church. Judgement. Wrath. Hell. Punishment. I heard these words pounded out week after week in hopes that my guilt and shame would lead me to the Cross. Instead, it scared me. It actually scared me into salvation. And… it paralyzed me from approaching the Mercy Seat because I thought that if God really knew me, He would change His mind and pull a lever that opened a trap door in heaven’s floor sending me straight to hell.
Two stories keep coming to mind and although the place, time, and characters differ, I keeping melding them together in my mind. The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and the story of Jesus Forgives an Adulterous Woman (John 8).
The story of the Prodigal Son is perhaps one of the most revered stories in all the Bible probably because we can related to one or both of the brothers in the story. You may remember that the younger brother asks his father for his inheritance so he can leave his responsibilities and pursue a life of fast and wild living . His crass insensitivity indicated that his father was worth more to him dead than alive. And though this must have grieved the father, he complied and gave his son his share of the inheritance. The son leaves, goes off to a far off place and lives an intoxicating life of sin while the older brother remains, toiling the land; fulfilling his responsibilities and his father’s every wish.
At this point of the story, we may find favor with the older brother, have sympathy for the father, and believe that whatever comes upon the younger brother, he probably deserves. We’re prone to the “eye for and eye” mentality.
But when the younger son, poor, broken, and humbled, crests the hill back to his father’s home to ask to become one of his servants, the father sees him and RUNS to him.
I have to pause here for a brief second to point out that the father sees the son when he is a long way off. The Father, after all these years, was still watching for His son’s return. He remained faithful. He didn’t give up hope.
The son tries to apologize and plead for a job as a servant, but the father won’t hear of it. Instead he sends for his best robe, calls for the fattened calf, and throws a celebration fit for a king. His son was home.
This father didn’t allow the son’s past to interfere with the present. This father did not reject his wayward son. This father celebrated his return and loved him just as he had loved him before. I am certain there were conversations, consequences even, but even in that, there was merciful acceptance.
(I’d love to write from the perspective of the older son, who struggled with forgiving his younger brother and developed a heart of bitterness toward his father, but this post is long already and I have many more words to say.)
We find comfort in this story because we have all be the wayward son in one regard or another and the picture of us returning to family loved—loved as we need, but don’t expect or necessarily deserve is nothing short of gracious mercy. We may not call it grace; we may not even call it mercy; but that is what we crave. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have received such grace from friends and family, while others have returned humbled and forever scared only to be rejected again.
That is not the heart of Christ.
And if it is not apparent yet, I will clearly state that mercy is the central theme of the gospel and we, as Christ-followers, play a vital, critical role in administering this saving medicine for the soul.
The other story that comes to mind is the one of the adulterous woman; the story where the Scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman caught in adulty (and had a reputation for such) before Jesus and asked him what they should do. They were tricksters, those Pharisees, because they knew the law of Moses like the back of their hand, which stated that anyone caught in adulty was to be stoned to death. They were hoping to catch Jesus breaking the law, but instead Jesus calmly said, “Whomever is without sin may cast the first stone.” One by one, the men left and when all had left, Jesus turned to the woman and asked, “Is there no one to condemn you?” she replied, “No, my Lord.” He then looked softly into her dark eyes and whispered, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Did this woman sin? Yes. Did this woman deserve to be stoned to death? According to the law, yes. Although the Bible doesn’t disclose how the woman was caught in the act, we can assume that because of her reputation, these Pharisees had been watching and waiting for her to slip up, to sin again. Some people in our lives do the same thing; they wait to pounce, to condemn, to say, “I knew you’d mess up.”
But on the other hand, we have been in a similar position as this woman, as the prodigal son, where we know we deserve condemnation, punishment and hope against hope for mercy.
What if the father had rejected the son? What if Jesus had encouraged the Pharisees to stone the adulterous woman? What if God withheld His mercy? The prodigal dissed… I weep, literally weep when I consider what I would lose—a love so great, a mercy so rich, a saving grace. It’s my everything. It’s my all.
Christ hears our heart’s plea for mercy and though our words may be choked by our tears and may fail to come to life as we approach his Mercy Seat, He tells us that a repentant heart (an explicit gesture) is all that is required. As Christ-followers let’s not ask more of others than Christ asks of us.