Where the biblical meaning of mercy is shown to be exceedingly rich and complex.
There is perhaps no word in our language precisely synonymous with mercy.
Grace comes nearest it.
Mercy implies benevolence, tenderness, mildness, pity, compassion or clemency. And it’s only exercised toward offenders.
Mercy induces an injured person to forgive. Forbear punishment. Inflict less than justice warrants.
Mercy is a distinguishing attribute of God. That’s why A. W. Tozer said:
We who earned banishment shall enjoy communion. We who deserve the pains of hell shall know the bliss of heaven.
God’s mercy is eternal, unfailing, unconditional. And it flows from his unchanging goodness, so doesn’t need to be provoked like wrath, but comes naturally.
It’s exercised on all who want it. And like other moral attributes is rooted in God’s unchanging nature, justice and perfection.
What Is God’s Mercy?
The biblical meaning of mercy is exceedingly rich and complex.
The Hebrew word kapporeth means a lid, used of the cover of the sacred Ark, which is the mercy seat–where the blood of atonement was offered to God. The connotation for kapporeth is one of ransom and propitiation.
The Greek word for mercy–eleemon–means to show mercy, pity or compassion to the wretched. Specifically, eleemon depicts a merciful, sympathetic attitude.
In God, mercy shows up as an infinite and inexhaustible energy that disposes God to be actively compassionate. He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when the mercy is despised.
Key Themes of God’s Mercy
God’s mercy is rooted in his goodness and love. Prominent in this concept are some key themes:
- God’s Mercy Is Great Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. Genesis 19:19
- God’s Mercy Is Everlasting Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. Deuteronomy 7:9
- God’s Mercy Is Unfailing In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. Exodus 15:13
- God’s Mercy Is Longsuffering The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. Numbers 14:18
- God’s Mercy Is Received by the Repentant In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now. Numbers 14:19
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament proclaim the mercy of God, but the OT has more to say about it than the NT.
Old Testament Stance on God’s Mercy
Jeremiah pictures God as a loving father who looks down from heaven with a yearning heart of compassion upon his rebellious and wayward people.
Hosea regards Israel as an unfaithful and adulterous wife whom God loves as a faithful husband in spite of her apostate and sinful condition.
And Isaiah saw God as a mother who has compassion on the son of her womb.
At the heart of the concept of mercy is the love of God. In the Old Testament, it was his chosen people Israel whom he elected to be his own and to whom he showed mercy. And despite their constant disobedience, God continually sought out his wayward people, to draw them back to him.
New Testament Stance on God’s Mercy
In the New Testament there is a fuller development of God’s mercy. In fact, the word used for Jesus’ mercy expresses his pity and compassion by means of a very intense verb that means “to be moved in one’s bowel’s.”
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
But the most obvious and important use of the word mercy in the New Testament is that of God’s provision of salvation for mankind in Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament concept of propitiation shows up in the New Testament, too. Mercy was released by Christ’s atoning death for all humankind.
And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 1 John 2:2
Since mercy flows from God’s goodness, and since God is infinite, it follows that God is infinitely and unchangeably merciful.
Your Response to God’s Mercy
Your response to God’s mercy falls into two categories–repentant or unrepentant.
Somewhere Tertullian suggested God was both master and father, so that “the divine law joins duties in respect of both these attributes: Thou shalt love God and Thou shalt fear God. It proposed one for the obedient man, the other for the transgressor.”
Your label determines how God shows his mercy–or if he does at all.
Don’t think you can rely on God’s love or sacrifice to allow you to persist in your unrepentance. God’s unlimited mercy only shows God desires to save all. God cannot do what is impossible. And it’s impossible to force a free choice.
God will not withhold his mercy from anyone who wants it. But neither will he cram His love down the throats of those who do not want it.
What is the appropriate response to God’s mercy? Prayer.
Prayer is not a condition for God’s giving mercy. Rather prayer is a condition for our receiving the mercy He desires to freely give us. It’s a position of submission. It’s a means by which God takes advantage of our willingness to receive His mercy.
He looks for our obedience.
Personally, I have no idea why I deserve God’s mercy. Sometimes I fall off the rails and hate my life.
But what’s important to me is to yield to His excellent and glorious will. To implore His mercy and loving-kindness. And to forsake all fruitless labors, strife and envy.
It’s the least I can do to show thanks for a gift I never deserved.
**Part of The Nature of God series.**