Just as there are many words for sugar hidden on ingredient labels, there are several words and concepts for love strategically and subtly positioned within the pages of the holy bible. One of these words is MERCY.
To extend mercy is to withhold the wrath that someone who has offended us actually deserves in our eyes. When we’ve been wronged and the resulting anger and tensions run high, the temptation is to give full vent to it, unleashing unfiltered words and actions upon the offender in an effort to react and perhaps get even — retribution at its finest. But that would be contrary to what is needed. Non-reaction (I did not say non-“action”) not only tends to squelch the potential for any further tensions, it can also heap burning coals upon the heads of the offender(s) and bring about personal conviction, if, in fact, they even realized they had offended anyone.
Mercy is a proactive choice. It is much more than overlooking an offense or even, as it is termed, letting someone “off the hook.” Mercy seeks the greatest good of another person, even when we’ve been wronged. Such is the nature of pure, true love.
Webster’s dictionary presents four definitions of mercy:
- “Forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation when one has the power to inflict it;”
- “Compassionate treatment of the unfortunate and helpless;”
- “Disposition to exercise compassion or favor;” and
- “A blessing regarded as a manifestation of compassion or favor.
Proverbs 17.9 states, “Anyone who overlooks an offense promotes love.”
Though not all wrongs are done intentionally, those that are intentional speak more to the nature and soul of the offender. The offense comes out of their own inner pain. In fact, most of human suffering (i.e., problems that cause personal pain and grief) are due to two reasons: 1) We act without thinking; and 2) We think without acting. So does such a person need to be beaten down even more, physically or verbally? Not in the slightest. Intentional offenses are most often unconscious cries for help and a hidden hunger for love. While it is difficult not to take those offenses personally, the tendency still remains. But when we see someone’s intentional offense for what it really is, which is a reaction to their own baggage by attempting to cast it upon us, we cannot help but see a need rather than a challenge. When we recognize the offender’s inner pain as their own personal suffering in some way, we will find the capacity for compassion. That is mercy — which is but one facet of love.
Some offenses, however, are unintentional. Sometimes offenses are merely a matter of misunderstanding. So how should we respond to these offenses? While I don’t agree with all of Buddhist philosophy, I sometimes find Biblical truth to be echoed within its principles and worded more simply. Buddhist philosophy says, “When nails grow long, we cut the nails rather than amputating the fingers.” In the same way, when there is a misunderstanding, we must cut our ego rather than the relationship. Pride/self/ego is the root of suffering. Proverbs 19.11 reads, “…A person with good sense is patient, and it is to his credit that he overlooks an offense.” Also, Proverbs 17.9 states, “Anyone who overlooks an offense promotes love.”
Mercy can be extended to both individuals and to humanity as a whole. Usually mercy needed for the whole of humanity is not about being “wronged,” per se, but to calm and heal and help their suffering that is self-inflicted (which is actually the majority of human suffering). To cast a big net to a hurting world with mercy, we can take action several ways, including feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting the prisoners, burying the dead, and providing resources to the poor. Jesus addresses this directly in Matthew 25.34-46.
Mercy is love, or, at least part of it. Love knows no boundaries or limitations; it knows no conditions and has no expiration dates. Always remember that sin takes for itself; loves gives of itself. Love is about how all things are interconnected in relationships of different kinds (not all of them human). That will be the subject of my next blog. This truth is only true because God, as we have addressed before, is himself the essence of love’s purest definition. And love is the power of becoming, our tagline at Chrysalis Life Change Solutions. May your search for holy understanding be blessed beyond words and may your soul and spirit be enlightened by shalom!