I used to think of mercy as the province of losers. Mercy was the guy who became a monk because he wasn’t very good with the ladies and always lost when he wrestled with his buddies, and who spent the rest of his life wearing itchy clothing and weeding the herb garden while getting walked on by everyone (for Jesus). Mercy was OK if that’s all you had to work with.
More recently, though, I’ve been forced to consider the possibility that mercy is more than a posture for wallflowers. Like the generous father in the parable, who weeps happily over His prodigal son, Jesus was profligate with mercy. He walked with the criminals and the condemned and took little satisfaction in nailing them to the wall. Instead, the wealth of His divine personality overflowed in forgiveness.
On top of this, the person who fails to show mercy is effectively stealing the vengeance of God.
If I try to give someone their rightful comeuppance, I’m walking on God’s turf. But if I forgive those who offend me in a way similar to the way Christ forgave me, then not only am I leaving vengeance in the hands of the One who owns it—I’m also earning a reward that only the merciful can receive. “Blessed are the merciful,” says Jesus. “For they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
I am surely in great need of God’s mercy. So I had better not be too quick to throw stones or break knee caps, even if such actions could be adequately justified—which they sometimes can.
Earlier this week, my wife and I had our car stolen out of the parking lot behind our apartment building. Apparently there has been a rash of Honda thefts in the Kansas City area recently, and we got bit. Long story short: our car was stolen, cleaned out, vandalized, wrecked and abandoned in another county. The items stolen: three and a half pairs of shoes—the perps left one of my basketball kicks—a handful of CDs, two car seats, some baby toys and a baby book. (Our first son is 17 months old.)
After insurance kicks in, we’ll still be sitting in a financial hole, but what really gets me is the stolen items. One used shoe. Toys. A baby book. A baby book. Are you freaking kidding me?
If you needed confirmation that people are more than merely evil, here’s one kind of proof.
One thing I had to confront when we got details about our car being found was my own reaction: Seething, I-would-like-to-take-a-bat-to-you, anger. The facts of the theft and vandalism were disturbing, but my own rage was also disturbing. It drove me back to Jesus and His incarnate mercy.
Because God is on the throne, the one who shows mercy is not a victim without recourse. God says He has justice taken care of—and we need to know that. Knowing it frees us up to be liberal with our forgiveness, knowing that Christlikeness has better rewards than revenge. If I found the guy(s) who stole our Honda and took our son’s book, would I resist the temptation to fight them? At the very least, I would think twice about it. “Vengeance is mine,” says God. “And blessed are those who don’t stumble over me,” says Jesus.
It would be better to let stupid perps walk than to stumble over Jesus by picking a fight to fulfill a personal vendetta. When personal grievance is pitted against God’s dibs on justice, the odds are not so good.
Mercy, on the other hand, literally can’t lose.