Mercy is defined as “compassion shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm”.
It is considered by many to be one of the most important attributes of God, and is lifted up as one of three things required of us by God.
While compassion can be remain contained as an emotional response of kindness toward another, mercy takes that response out of its container and makes it tangible. It is the hand of mercy that reaches out in forgiveness to those by whom one has been harmed. And whom one could justifiably punish.
How does that translate into every day life? It seems challenging enough to “let go” of grievances and “move on”. Mercy demands that we 1. return to face those who have done us wrong, and to 2. show them the mercy God shows us.
Since my theology isn’t built around divine mercy, I feel moved to limit my comments and my actions to what I know about the first part.
I spent years trying to “let go and move on” from something someone did to me, and made myself miserable in the process – became even more of a victim than I was in the first place. It was only after opening my heart in compassion (a process taking over 20 years), and then offering my hand in forgiveness, that I was able to heal and truly “move on”.
So I have experienced the challenge and the benefit of mercy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t balk at the thought of mercy shown to those who commit crimes against the flesh, against the spirit, against the earth and against future generations. It is hard enough to “let go” of anger. It is hard enough to open to compassion. Show mercy as well? How is that even possible?
The only answer I can come up with has everything to do with knowing and staying true to one’s deepest values, and holding one another accountable to them. If I haven’t said it before (and I’m pretty sure I have) that’s the precise purpose and prize of covenanted shared ministry.