Great are thy tender mercies, O Lord” (Psalm 119:156). “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works” (145:8–9, my italics).
I want to ask you a question I’ve been asking myself lately: Are you a merciful person? Most of us would answer, “I think I am merciful. To the best of my ability, I sympathize with those who suffer. I feel the pain of my hurting brothers and sisters in Christ, and I try to help them. I do my best to assist my neighbors in need. And when people hurt me, I forgive them and don’t hold a grudge.”
I believe all true Christians have a good measure of mercy for the lost and hurting. I thank God for that. But the sad truth is, God’s Word exposes in many of us deep roots of bias and very limited concepts of mercy.
Most religions that claim to fear God have a creed or doctrine that says, “God’s tender, loving mercies extend to all of humankind.” As followers of Jesus, we talk so much about his tender mercies to the wide world. But here is the truth:
There are many people to whom large numbers of Christians limit God’s mercy. I think of prostitutes who work in godless brothels. I think of people in Africa and other continents dying by the thousands with AIDS. I think of homosexuals who endure endless heart-aches and mental anguish, the trials of their lives, and who drink themselves into oblivion to try to cover their pain.
From what I read in Scripture, I can’t accept that my Savior would ever turn down the desperate cry of a prostitute, a homosexual, a drug addict or alcoholic who has hit rock bottom. His mercies are unlimited: there is no end to them. Therefore, as his church — Christ’s representative body on the earth — we cannot cut off anyone who cries out for mercy and deliverance.
We may not even be aware of these inner biases until suddenly they’re in our face, confronting us with the truth about our hearts. As you consider this in your own life, I ask you again: Are you a merciful person, tender and loving? I picture many readers saying, “Yes.” Yet, ask those around you — your family, your co-workers, your friends and neighbors, your friends of a different color — and see how they respond.