Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Lord is gracious and merciful...

I am beginning to think that God's mercy is one of his least understood qualities in these days. Is it because we have little understanding of, little attraction to, the concept of repentance? We are still so prone to think of it as having to do with medieval penitential excesses ("Pass the scourge, Brother, and can you just hand me that hair shirt? Thanks, old chap!") or else pale Victorian neurasthenia. Either that, or teeth-grinding, hair pulling remorse.

Real repentance, clean and wholesome, gentle and life-giving, we seem often to overlook.

St Isaac of Nineveh had this to say:

Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.

God's mercy is without limit.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

(Ps 145:8-9)

Given the Cross, given that God loved us that much, that he gave his only begotten Son to die for us - that is, for me, for you - how will he not be merciful to us, whatever the circumstances? (cf. Romans 8:32)

H'mm. Yes, it's not just rhetoric, or preaching flourishes. It's all true, every bit of it. And that's what's so astonishing about the Cross. You can't ever get to the end of being amazed, completely dumbfounded, really. It's the one refuge beyond all refuges - in the death and resurrection of our Lord is all we'll ever need. It's just that simple. "The sign of contradiction [the Cross as instrument of Christ's death and yet our source of life] has become the sign of hope, a witness of fidelity until the end of our lives." (From an article on the Tau Cross in the Secular Franciscan Archives.)


Unknown said...

Well written about grace and repentance. We don't understand and we take it for granted, and often cheapen it.

Nancy said...

"I am beginning to think that God's mercy is one of his least understood qualities in these days."

This is a thought provoking comment. Perhaps so many of us (Christians) fail to extend mercy for this very reason; we do not understand, really understand, God's mercy. I've read about God's mercy, listened to teachings on God's mercy, and sung songs about God's mercy for many years. In the deepest part of me though, it just never quite sunk in, and I believe part of the reason is that so often I experienced God's people offering more judgement than mercy.
May God help us all to understand and allow our hearts and lives to be changed.

Mike Farley said...

" often I experienced God's people offering more judgement than mercy."

Yes, that's so true, unfortunately. We often don't realise the awesome responsibility we have as members of Christ's body. St Isaac has another very apposite remark to make here: "Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character."

Eeek! God give me grace just to begin to live like that!