“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.”
— Psalm 116:1 (NIV)
It can seem so hard to forgive. We may struggle for all sorts of reasons in finding the right basis for a forgiving position. All we want to do, after all, is to feel like we have forgiven the person. Yet sometimes these feelings of peace over the situation lag.
We know that our failure to comprehensively forgive works against us. Try as we might—and we have tried numerous times—it won’t stick. Driven to distraction we continue to come back to the same point in relearning a familiar lesson.
I have often wondered why God would patiently return us to this point.
Sometimes learning and relearning the same tired lesson is the way to finally understand the issue at a deeper level. Where we fail to forgive, yet continue to try, we might just learn a much deeper lesson that few might be blessed to learn.
To forgive we must have unconditional compassion; mercy is what we need to feel.
Defining Mercy from the Theological Setting
Mercy is withholding something bad that is deserved—usually punishment. Thinking in terms of the cross, we deserved to be crucified; not Jesus. Our sins were and are forgiven. God has extended his unfathomable mercy to us. God has withheld what we deserved: eternal death.
How does God feel about us; sinners, who, having been saved, often re-crucify our Lord? God’s work of forgiveness is perfect. His mercy is everlasting. Never will we get what we deserve. No amount of disobedience will change God’s mind. That is mercy.
Mercy is similar, yet paradoxically opposite, to grace. Grace is about getting what we don’t deserve—the forgiveness of God.
Developing a Merciful Heart
And all this above merely sets forth a theological challenge to every believer.
If we would truly believe, and follow Jesus, we would pray for the emotional knowledge and peace of God’s compassion borne of mercy. When we truly believe we develop our hearts in mercy.
When we begin to consider the genuine spiritual, emotional, and mental frailties of those who transgress us, the compassion borne of mercy comes more naturally. If God can look past our every foul deed, finding room for mercy by withholding what we truly deserve, surely can’t we look past another’s foul deed, too?
The final frontier of forgiveness is the development of a merciful heart. That, and only that, is the only thing that stands in our way. When we withhold our scorn, remembering our own imperfections, and how ill-deserved of grace we are, we can forgive.
The arrangement of compassion is not a difficult task if we begin to view people as God does. Fraught with all kinds of faults, we look gentler over our contemporaries.
Oh merciful heart of God, look past our transgressions for withholding mercy. Help us instead to withhold our judgment and punishment of those we struggle to forgive. Amen.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.