What is God’s Mercy?

Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?

Matthew 18:33

Dear members and friends,

Being merciful is one of the most significant characteristics of God, especially in the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It certainly depends on the version of translation, but according to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the word “mercy” appears 75 times in the Old Testament and 56 times in the New Testament. With this, one thing that becomes clear is that the ancient people in the Bible desired their God to be merciful, and thus wished that they themselves become merciful to each other. 

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mercy as “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; lenient or compassionate treatment” or “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion” or “compassionate treatment of those in distress.”  The English word “mercy” originated from the Anglo-French word merci, which is from the Latin word merced meaning “price paid or wages.” Since I am not a linguist, I am not certain of the actual reason for the development of the English word mercy from merci. However, reflecting on the meaning of the Latin word merced, “price paid,” I cannot help but to think of redemptive work accomplished by the life and suffering of Jesus Christ. His redemption was for humanity as a whole. Jesus, Incarnate Divine, brought back what humanity lost: spiritual freedom. 

The Latin word for mercy is misericordia, which is misereri (to pity or to be pitiful) plus cordia (heart).  There could be two different meanings of misericordia: 1. To have pity in heart; 2. To be pitiful with heart. Whichever it is, misericordia could represent the truth that in the concept of mercy is the hopeful union of the Creator with humans. Creator has pity in the divine heart for the human condition, while human life is full of misery without love of the Creator. Consequently, being merciful could be illustrated by the mindset that one is genuinely conscious of and thus authentically feeling the pain and suffering of others. What it also means is that our Creator not only knows, but feels our pain and suffering. Furthermore, our Creator strongly desires to alleviate our pain and suffering to the end that we would only suffer those things/matters of our own choosing.

My brothers and sisters in God, let us take to our heart this teaching of Jesus, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).” What we choose matters not only because our actions illustrate who we truly are, but also by means of our actions we become instruments of God’s love.  

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee