The Power of Mercy
A mother sought the pardon of her son from the first Napoleon. The emperor said it was his second offense, and justice demanded his death. "I don't ask for justice," demanded his mother, "I plead for mercy." "But," said the emperor, "he does not deserve mercy." "Sire," cried the mother, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for." "Well, then," said the emperor, "I will have mercy." And her son was saved (1).
Mercy is a powerful attribute that, when shown, helps people develop a sense of gratitude while also showing the good that exists in humanity. Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and author of the best selling novel, Just Mercy, details this perfectly in his book. Just Mercy, which turned into a major motion picture, details the controversies and injustices that are prevalent in the criminal justice system. Stevenson stresses that many prisoners and former criminals are given little to no mercy, even when they are sometimes found to be innocent of the crime they were convicted of. After reading the book, it got me thinking about the wonderful mercy of God and how the people who are made in His image should show mercy (Gen. 1:27).
What is Mercy?
Webster defines mercy as compassion or forbearance, shown especially to an offender or compassionate treatment of those in distress (2). In essence, it’s a virtue which inspires us with compassion for others, and inclines us to assist them in their necessities. Mercy is also a Christian grace. One day when Jesus was speaking to a crowd while standing on an obscure hill, He said, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7, NKJV).
When you are dealing with others, especially those who have wronged you, and have pity or concern for them, then you can be confident that you are showing mercy. We know this to be a fact because God, the Supreme Ruler of this universe, has shown us mercy. Dear reader, we would not have any idea of what mercy looks like if God did not give us an example of it.
Why Has God Granted Me Mercy?
Our life is like the dial on a clock. The hands are God's hands, passing over and over again—the Short Hand of Discipline and the Long Hand of Mercy. Slowly and surely the Hand of Discipline must pass, and God speaks at each strike; but over and over passes the Hand of Mercy, showering down sixtyfold of blessing for each stroke of discipline or trial; and both hands are fastened to one secure point—the great, unchanging Heart of the God of Love (1).
God loves us so much, which is why He gives us mercy on a daily basis. Psalms 130:7 says, “For with the Lord, there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption.” Mercy is an essential attribute of Jehovah that appears expressly in the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Luke 6:36). It is He who came down from heaven, put on flesh, and sacrificed Himself so that humanity can be saved through Him (Phi. 2:5-8; John 1:1-2, 14; 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:22). Without Christ, we would have no hope and would have to suffer the ultimate penalty for our sins—eternal death (Rom. 6:23). But because God has compassion for you and me, He took it upon Himself to show us mercy by sending His Son. I can’t wrap my head around why God would do such a wonderful thing for such imperfect people, but that’s the thing about mercy, it belongs to the undeserving.
Why is Mercy so Powerful?
The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering (3).
As a lawyer, Stevenson has experienced judges and prosecutors extend a lack of mercy to convicted felons which sometimes leads to harsh penalties, such as life without parole or the death penalty. His life’s work has been focused on getting adults—as well as children who are tried as adults—off death row who don’t deserve to be there.
When mercy is granted to those individuals—and it could be in the form of a lesser judgement after an appeal—it is indeed a powerful thing. There are many who think that just because we have done something wrong or have suffered from difficult circumstances, then we don’t deserve a little mercy. Dear reader, our God is the God of unlimited mercy, even though we don’t deserve it (Eph. 2:4)! We should be willing to show mercy to others since He has done so on our behalf.
How Can I Show Mercy?
The apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:21 that we are to follow in Christ's steps; as Jesus Christ is merciful, we also are to show mercy in our judgments (4). You can show mercy to people by having compassion and forbearing with them. Stevenson noted,
When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things that you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us (3).
I for one can say that I have been given mercy a time or two in my lifetime. There was a time in middle school when my classmates and I were getting ready for 8th grade graduation. Being the bad kid that I was, I did something foolish that landed me in the principal’s office. She scolded me and said, “If I have to see you in here again, then you won’t be able to walk across the stage for graduation.” That’s mercy, folks, and a little bit of it goes a long way. I deserved harsher judgement for what I did, but the principal was patient with me and let me off with a warning.
If you are willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, then you are on the right track to showing compassion. If you want to help humanity and become a better person, then it can start by giving others some mercy.
(3) Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption. Spiegel & Grau, 2019.