Loving mercy.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
 – Micah 6:8 NKJV

I know that I need mercy. I know that the people I love need mercy. I know that the people that drive me nuts need mercy. Pick any reputable (or irreputable, if you really want to drive the point home!) news agency, and scan the headlines for ten seconds – this world desperately needs mercy.

It can be easy to hear that familiar passage and think “love mercy, got it.” Mercy is like being kind, right? So be kind. Check. Be slow to anger, quick to forgive. Check. Try to think the absolute best about a situation until it’s impossible to continue to do so. Check. Be charitable in your estimation of all. Check, check, check. We all need mercy, got it.

But needing a thing and loving a thing aren’t quite the same thing, are they?
It’s one thing to be needed; it’s entirely another to be loved.
Ask any woman.

Let’s take a moment to savor Micah 6:6-8:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
And bow myself before the High God?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
With calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”

First, is there anything more beautiful than that phrasing in verse 7 – ‘the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul’? What beauty, what aching there is in the author’s approximation of God’s perfect holiness. He knows there’s no sacrifice that could even come close to atoning for the soul of man. But what blessed relief in finding that what our Lord requires – what is pleasing to Him even beyond the most incalculably valued sacrifice – is that we would do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before Him.

This mercy, in some translations rendered as “kindness,” is defined in Oxford’s dictionary as “compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm; performed out of a desire to relieve suffering.”

Take a moment to read that again, and consider its implications.

It is this mercy that God extends to us, every moment of created order, every moment of our existence. It is arrestingly beautiful.

In light of that, I have to ask myself, and by default, I include you, reader: do we love mercy? Not give lip service to it, not acknowledge the need for it, but do we love it?

Do we love mercy, in the way that God loves to show it to us, as read above – as compassion or forgiveness shown towards us, when it is within His power to punish us instead? And that given out of a desire to relieve our suffering? Do we love mercy like that? I don’t, but Lord, I want to.

There is a profound difference in receiving something that is given from love, and that which is doled out from stinginess or self-righteousness. With love, you are giving to honor the other, not to make yourself look good, and keeping no record of the wrong. There is a tangible sweetness to mercy given in love.

But perhaps you know that sickening feeling when you apologize to someone and yet are left on the hook. Maybe you are granted forgiveness, but only with ranting, or contempt, or condescension. Nobody feels free after that. There’s no relief that accompanies a stingy kind of ‘mercy’.

When I have received true mercy, that former kind, I have been so relieved, so grateful – especially when I’ve anticipated the hammer of the latter – and I’m usually eager afterwards to amend my ways. This should come as no surprise, because we are taught that it is kindness that leads us to repentance.

But I don’t always extend this assumption to others when the tables are turned. I don’t always give the benefit of the doubt that whatever has caused the need for mercy is likely regretted and seeking amendment.

I think of Jesus explaining to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7 that those who have been forgiven much, love much; that those who have been forgiven little, love little. I wanted to write about how the natural outpouring of receiving His mercy would be love for the One offering it, with an overflow of love and mercy for those around us who need it.

But that doesn’t always happen in us, does it, for there is also the parable in Matthew 18, titled in some translations as, “The parable of the unmerciful servant.” Unsurprisingly, this also ties into forgiveness. We’re given these parables for so many reasons: for instruction, for encouragement, for comfort, but also at times as a sober warning for our souls.

Do we love mercy, both in receiving it ourselves, and in giving it freely to others?

Do we love mercy for ourselves, yet lord it over others when they need it?

Do we loathe both our own and others’ need for it, not knowing the solid footing of the depth and riches of His love and grace?

Take heart.

Wherever you find yourself today, as long as it is Today, there is hope in the living God and in His Word. In the words of my favorite Christmas hymn, ‘He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger.’ He knows where this is easy for us, and He knows where it is hard. We can bring this in prayer, crying out to Him for help, because He looks upon us in mercy. I need it, you need it, and mercifully, He delights to give it.

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