In God’s Mercy or At His Mercy?

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While in a time of prayer and meditation this morning, some thoughts came to mind about God’s mercy. Are we in His mercy or at His mercy?

Many of us have been raised to feel that we are “at” God’s mercy, that God is an uncompassionate authority figure who rules over our lives at a distance, yet He is unmoved by the severity of our situations and we are forced to feel grateful if He acts in our behalf. Such feelings may be due to inadequate religious teaching from childhood or a parent or other authority figure that misused their authority. Feelings of being “at” God’s mercy may even stem from being raised in poverty, which often causes one to feel that you are always at the mercy of others’ whims and unable to help yourself.

As I began to study the topic of God’s mercy this evening, I discovered that God’s mercy is clearly governed by His overwhelming love and concern for us.

The first passages I came across were of people in crises who were writing about God’s response to their cries for help. Take a look at these people’s view of God’s merciful responses:

In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from Your sight!” Yet You heard my cry for mercy when I called to You for help. Ps. 31:22

I love the LORD, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Ps 116:1

In all their distress, He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Is. 63:9

Notice some of their key points about God’s mercy during their crises.

  1. His mercy is great or vast.
  2. In a moment of terror, when the person thought he was abandoned, God heard his cry and helped him.
  3. His love and mercy caused God to actually empathize and feel the distress of the person in the situation. He then responded in a nurturing way.

In these next quotes, the writers’ express God’s mercy toward someone repentant of evil.

But in Your great mercy You did not put an end to them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and merciful God. Neh. 9:31

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. Is. 55:7

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgressions? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Mic. 7:18

  1. The first writer expresses that, in his experience, he has seen that God’s mercy caused Him not to punish or abandon people though undeserving of His mercy.
  2. The second writer says one can have confidence that God will indeed have mercy upon the repentant, because He “freely” pardons. In other words, God is generous with His mercy, not stingy.
  3. The last writer says that no one compares with God due to His level of delighting in showing mercy. All these passages reinforce the concept that we are not “at” God’s mercy, or as the phrase implies, at the mercy of an uncompassionate ruling authority.

Another incredible illustration of the mercy of God comes from a prophecy about the birth of John the Baptist.

Luke 1:76-78 says that John would be a prophet to prepare the way before Jesus to “give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God. The very act of God coming in human flesh to complete our salvation was due to the “tender mercy” of God, not the haphazard good deed of an unkind, unjust judge of mankind.

In Scripture, we are told to seek wisdom. James describes the wisdom of heaven or of God with mercy being a part of His wisdom.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (Jms. 3:17).” First of all, when we are “at” the mercy of someone, they are not the type of person which one would describe as wise, much less embodying all of the loving, gracious attributes described here. Even notice that God’s mercy is described as being full of good results.

The picture should be getting clear now, that we live “in” the mercy of God, not “at” His mercy. A closer look at the root words used for “mercy” complete our portrait of the mercy of God.

In the James passage, the word for mercy in the Greek is eleos, the literal meaning of which is active compassion. Active compassion would never describe someone who manipulates people “at their mercy.” The other Greek word I came across for mercy had the same root meaning, that of active compassion.

The Hebrew words for mercy are even more beautifully descriptive of the mercy of God that we live in. Psalm 103:17 states, “But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that revere him.” The Hebrew word for mercy in this quote is Checed, the full meaning of which includes: kindness, beauty, favor, good deeds, and loving-kindness. A different Hebrew word for mercy, Racham, is used in the passage from Nehemiah earlier in this article. It’s root meaning is just as lovely and complete: compassion, tender love, great and tender mercy, an extension of the womb-as in the cherishing of the fetus.

These few passages from just a handful of writers make it beautifully clear that not only do we live “in” the mercy of God, but God’s mercy is so phenomenally wonderful and beautiful that it is something no one should ever desire to live without.

Let’s deal with your life at the present moment. You may just have a variety of issues you need to deal with, or you may be in a major crisis. Or, maybe you’re suffering from some serious mistakes and feeling repentant. God’s mercy, His mercy that is everlasting, actively compassionate, kind, tender, and loving is available for you today, no matter what your need. I’m going to end this post with one of my favorite passages regarding God’s mercy.

For we do not have a High Priest [referring to Jesus] who is unable to sympathize and have a fellow feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation…Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace–the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners; that we may receive mercy for our failures and find grace to help in good time for every need-appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it. Heb. 4:15,16 (Amplified)

Definitions are from Strong’s Dictionary of OT Words and Strong’s Dictionary of NT Words.

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