What is the dumbest phrase in the English language? In a moment.

As I grew up I learned the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. As a young man, the world was very black and white. Young men can think like that. I remember discussing politics and religion with my father when I was a young firebrand. While my father and I shared most beliefs, he seemed less willing than I to call all those who held opinions and acted in opposition to the truth names, names like ‘evil.’ I did. My father didn’t. He would often say cryptic things like, “There but for the mercy of God.”  “But Dad, the things they do and say are evil. I would never do that.” He would look at me and repeat, “But for the mercy of God.”

As I grow older, I realize that what I once mistook for softness was a strength I didn’t understand. Mercy. When I was young, like Hugo’s Javert, I found mercy hard to understand. It makes a lot more sense to me now because I know much better what I am, a sinner in need of mercy.

Mercy is a gift, a grace. But as with all free gifts, easily rejected. The value of things is often revealed in loss.

As I lost my innocence and with no possible way to restore it on my own, the value of mercy became more evident. We don’t learn mercy, it is a grace, but we can learn the value of it.

Among the ‘hard sayings’ in the Bible there is one that may be the hardest of all, and it may be the one that most Christians are familiar but often overlook. It goes like this.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive ...”

Forgive us as we forgive. Now that is a hard saying.

As I mentioned earlier, in my youth as I reviled those in opposition to the truth, my father would give gratitude for the mercy of God. I have learned many things as I have aged, chief among them is that there is nary a sin conceived in the mind of the devil of which I would not be capable were it not for the mercy of a good God. I need that mercy.

So I understand my father now, when he prayed to be forgiven as he forgave, he knew what that meant. He, like me, was a sinner in need of a mercy he could not merit.

So what have I learned in all these years? I have learned what the dumbest phrase in the English language is ...

“I would never do that.”

Mercy.