In reading the Divine Office this morning I am struck again at how often the Psalms mention mercy. The mercy of God showers through not just the Psalms but the Scriptures.
We so often think of mercy in a legalistic way—that it simply means God will let us off the hook. We also think of mercy as a passive, or weak characteristic. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II said that “Mercy is Love’s second name.” God’s mercy is an outgoing and pro active characteristic–constantly flowing out towards us with blessing, forgiveness and fullness of life and love.
In contrast, I read some time ago an open letter from someone who disagreed with an apology that was issued by an Evangelical who ran a ministry that tried to heal people with same sex attraction through prayer. This Evangelical has changed the emphasis of his ministry to homosexual people and has made a public apology for his former tactics. The open letter by a homosexual who was offended by the Evangelical pastor’s former approach was very grudging in its acceptance of the apology. There was no mercy and no forgiveness. At best there was a limited level of tolerance.
It struck me that mercy is so much bigger than mere tolerance. We may be tolerant of others, but what real good is that? It is really little more than an absence of bigotry and malice. Indeed, it is little more than indifference. “Can’t we all just get along?”
Mercy, on the other hand, reaches out to the other person in a pro active and positive way. Mercy is not simply forgiveness and letting someone off the hook. It is an active acceptance of the other person. It is an embrace. As Christians we should be merciful—not just tolerant. This should also be our attitude to people who are locked in a life of sin and despair. We treat them like we treat everyone else—with mercy.
This might sound like we are treating them like poor, miserable sinners. We are. That’s because we treat everyone as poor miserable sinners because that’s the reality of our human condition. To say otherwise is to be naive about ourselves and others.
On the other hand, to truly accept this condition of our souls is to take a step into reality and wherever there is reality there is not just a bland tolerance, but real joy, peace and true confidence. The fourteenth century English mystic, Julian of Norwich summed it up when she said that the Lord “looks on us with pity, not with blame.”
If he looks on me with such compassion and affection, then I ought to look on others in the same way.