One of the things my wife hates about me is that I will never kill the spiders in our house. Usually, if anything, I’ll take a plastic cup, scoop them into it and gingerly put them outside—where they probably turn around and crawl right back into our basement. My reasoning in doing so stems from a deep respect for God’s creation, and also from a great desire to be merciful. I know, I do have the right to kill the spiders because God has given mankind dominion over “every living thing,” and because they have the nerve to come into my house and spin webs, and because they are yucky. But there are two things that keep me from destroying the spiders.
First, I was once that kid who got a sick glee from burning up ants with a magnifying glass, and I still kind of feel guilty about it. As a biologist, I try not to humanize animals but to see them for what they are, along with their amazing purpose in nature. As a Christian, I’m awed by the intricacies of speciation, the diversity of life and the beauty of God’s creation. I cannot, in good conscience, kill a spider just because it bothers me when I’ve seen how utterly amazing spiders are and that they have such an intricate place in our world (they eat other bugs—especially the really bad ones that actually can harm us, like flies, mosquitos and ticks).
Secondly, just because I have the power to destroy something, it doesn’t justify my destructive act. Not only could God squish me because He holds the power to do so, but He also has the right to do so because I’ve sinned against Him and He is my Creator. But He chooses to be merciful instead. After experiencing such mercy, how can I then turn and not show mercy to others or, in this case, lesser arachnids? True mercy encompasses both the ability to destroy something but choosing not to, and the right to destroy something but choosing not to.
This point is strongly displayed in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (which, if you never read it, you’re doing a complete disservice to yourself, as it’s considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, if not one of the greatest novels ever written). The book itself circles around the concept of mercy, and various acts and repercussions of it, over and over again. It begins with the story of Jean Valjean, a Frenchman imprisoned for five years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, and then 14 more for attempting to escape.
After being taken in for the night by Bishop of Digne, kindly Monseigneur Bienvenu, Valjean is caught by a gendarme while stealing the bishop’s pure silverware. Although it seems that the life of this poor convict is surely at its end, the most amazing thing happens: Monseigneur Bienvenu hands Valjean two silver candlesticks in addition to the silverware, claiming it was all a gift in the first place.
"Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man," the bishop says—although Valjean never made any such promise.
"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good," he continues. "It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."
In saying this, Monseigneur Bienvenu sets Jean Valjean free. For the rest of the novel, Valjean spends his life doing the utmost of good, acting mercifully to others and living the sacrificial life of a true believer in the mercy of Jesus Christ. Bienvenu had not only the ability to punish Valjean for his actions, but the reason to do so, and he chose mercy instead. This passage from Les Miserables echoes the words of the Apostle Paul at the end of the sixth chapter of 1st Corinthians, that we who have been given the gift of salvation, “have been bought at a price.”
In a sense, we’re all in debt to God for our lives. He has purchased our souls at great cost—the life of His Son. It is what we do with this gift that will make us worthy of the title “Christian,” if it truly is to mean “Christ- like.” If we are to be like Christ, then we must choose mercy over judgement, compassion over wrath, and sacrifice above selfishness. Be merciful because mercy has saved you. I thank you, and so do all of your new spider friends.