Are You Merciful as Your Father Is Merciful?
JEHOVAH is a God “rich in mercy.” Of him the psalmist sang: “Jehovah is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in loving-kindness. Jehovah is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works.”—Eph. 2:4; Ps. 145:8, 9.
What does that mean to you? Do you think of God’s mercifulness as a quality that comes into play only when persons are “on trial” before him due to having committed some wrong? Does he express mercy only when lightening his sentence of judgment toward offenders?
By no means. True, as used in the Scriptures, mercy (Heb., ra·hhamʹ; Gr., eʹle·os) may describe a negative action, such as holding back punishment. But it most frequently describes a positive action. As discussed in an earlier issue of this magazine,* mercy is, basically, “compassion in action,” an expression of kind consideration or pity that brings relief to those who are in need, in difficulty or danger.
Far from being limited to judicial decisions, mercy is a characteristic quality of God’s personality. It is his normal way of reacting toward those in need, a heartwarming facet of his love. God’s Son, who revealed what his Father is like, helps us, by his own personality, speech and acts, to appreciate that Jehovah is indeed “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.” (John 1:18; 2 Cor. 1:3) In fact, a major reason for God’s Son to be sent to earth was that “he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God,” one through whom we can “approach with freeness of speech to the throne of undeserved kindness, that we may obtain mercy and find undeserved kindness for help at the right time.”—Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:15, 16.
Not that God is a sentimentalist. His exercise of mercy is always in harmony with his other qualities and righteous standards, including his justice and holiness. (Hos. 2:19) So, we should never try to presume upon God’s mercy, thinking that he will continue his mercy toward us no matter what we do. There is no mocking him, and those who willfully sow evil can only expect to reap evil. (Gal. 6:7) If we show deliberate disrespect for God’s righteous ways by our words, acts and course of life, we offend him, and he may rightly “shut off his mercies in anger.”—Ps. 77:9; Rom. 2:4-11.
MERCY BEGETS MERCY
God’s Son said: “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) This is true to a large extent even in our dealings with one another as humans, is it not? Jesus gave the principle that “just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” After urging his disciples to “continue becoming merciful” like their Father, and to stop judging and condemning others, he added: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.”—Luke 6:31, 36-38.
Many of the inspired proverbs stress this point. Proverbs 28:27 says: “He that is giving to the one of little means will have no want, but he that is hiding his eyes will get many curses.” Also: “He that is kindly in eye will be blessed, for he has given of his food to the lowly one.”—Prov. 22:9.
But such compassionate dealing is certainly not to be limited to material giving. People need to be fed in their minds and hearts, they need spiritual sustenance and heartening news and encouragement. Otherwise they suffer a want and a starvation that is more painful than that owing to lack of material food. This is true today as never before.
In a world where there is so much insensitivity to people’s needs, where harsh criticism is so frequent and encouraging expressions of appreciation are so few, the merciful person is indeed a refreshing blessing. His generous giving of himself, even more than of his possessions, will not go unrewarded—certainly not unrewarded by Jehovah. God’s Word says: “He that is showing favor to the lowly one is lending to Jehovah, and his treatment He will repay to him.” (Prov. 19:17) Yes, Jehovah appreciates those who imitate his mercy.
The Bible intimately associates mercy with goodness. After promising to reveal ‘all his goodness’ to Moses, Jehovah caused his angel to pass before the prophet and speak of God’s mercy and loving-kindness. (Ex. 33:19; 34:6, 7) Psalm 145:9, too, parallels goodness and mercy, saying: “Jehovah is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works.”
The extent to which the merciful person can stir reciprocal feelings of compassion in others is seen in Paul’s expression at Romans 5:7, where he states: “For hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die.” As we have seen, goodness embraces mercifulness. Why, then, is it more likely that someone would dare to die for the “good man” than for the “righteous man”?
A man could be viewed by people as “righteous” if he is just, honest, not guilty of immorality. He is a man free from accusation of wrongdoing. But the “good man” goes beyond this. He is not only concerned with doing what is right and proper. He is moved by compassion to do even more than justice requires, being motivated by wholesome consideration of others and the keen desire to benefit them, help them, contributing as much as he can to their happiness. While the “righteous man” gains respect and admiration, his appeal to the heart is not as strong as that of the “good man.” Yes, for the man who is warm, considerate, merciful, helpful, whose goodness is truly notable, winning affection in the heart of others—for such a man, Paul says, one might be willing to die. And if humans can show such appreciation for the compassionate person, how much more does God do so! For God’s sacrifice of his beloved Son exemplifies His own love of goodness and compassion.—Rom. 5:6-8.
LACK OF COMPASSION OFFENSIVE
If mercy begets mercy, the converse is just as true. Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful slave who, having been pardoned a huge debt by his royal master, thereafter showed no compassion toward a fellow slave who owed but a small amount, well illustrates this. The man’s lack of mercy was repugnant to yet other slaves who told the master; and the master, calling the unmerciful slave before him, said: “Wicked slave, I canceled all that debt for you, when you entreated me. Ought you not, in turn, to have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I also had mercy on you?” Provoked to wrath, the master had the unmerciful slave thrown into jail.—Matt. 18:32-34.
Similar feeling was expressed by David on hearing Nathan’s account of the wealthy man who took a poor man’s single lamb to provide a meal for a guest. In wrath David cried out: “The man doing this deserves to die!” Why? “Because he did not have compassion” toward his fellowman. But David, though at heart a compassionate man himself, as his expression showed, suffered the crushing blow of being told: “You yourself are the man!” So, then, though we may be practicers of mercy, we cannot let ourselves become complacent but must heed the exhortation, “Continue becoming merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”—2 Sam. 12:1-7; Luke 6:36.
The seriousness of the matter is seen in the Bible’s statement that the “merciless” are counted among those viewed by God as “deserving of death.” (Rom. 1:31, 32) Consider the case of the Pharisees, who Jesus said were, as a class, destined for Gehenna, everlasting destruction. (Matt. 23:23, 33) Evidently lack of mercy contributed largely to their meriting this condemnation. When reproving them for ‘condemning the guiltless ones,’ Jesus told them to “go . . . and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.”’—Matt. 9:11-13; 12:7; Hos. 6:6.
At the root of the Pharisees’ problem was their extreme legalistic approach to all matters. They were intensely concerned with rules, regulations and procedures, but they overlooked or gave less consideration to the more weighty principles of God’s Word and the fundamental precepts of true worship. They were certainly not like the One they claimed as their heavenly Father. (John 8:41) Do we see in ourselves any inclination to be like them?
Even though God’s mercy is by no means limited to times of judgment, these are certainly occasions when it is thus notably evident. And how much we should desire to be objects of God’s mercy at such times!