This year my church began sponsoring a family of refugees from Syria. The Canadian government will provide half the income they need for their first year here in our city, but we are responsible for the other half. This family was, of course, eager to leave the refugee camp behind for the safety of life in Canada, but they don’t know English, have no experience with winter — especially our extreme northern winters — and left all of their extended family and friends behind. Can you imagine how difficult their new life is? How lonely they can feel? It’s the job of a group of volunteers from the church to ease their transition to life here, and they need help with all these things and more. A few weeks after they settled into the home prepared for them, the mother spoke for the whole family and thanked the church. “We are not of your religion,” she said through a translator, “but you have shown us mercy.”
She was using the word mercy in the same way the Bible does. When the authors of scripture use this word, the focus is on the helplessness of those receiving mercy. In his mercy God is good to those who are in trouble and cannot help themselves. From his mercy he helps the helpless and gives hope to the hopeless.
Mercy includes God’s pity for those who are in trouble, but it’s much more than mere pity, because his mercy has all of his power behind it. A leper once came to Jesus, and asked to be healed. “Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘. . . be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him” (Mark 1:41-42). Jesus saw this man’s predicament, sympathised with him, and used his infinite healing power to cure him. This is how it works with God’s mercy. From his mercy, he helps those no one else can help. His mercy accomplishes what is impossible for anyone but God.
In his mercy, God heals the sick, provides for the needy, and rescues those who are exploited and mistreated. From his mercy, he delivers people from affliction, oppression, and poverty. He is “[f]ather of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5; see also Psalm 10:14; Hosea 14:3) because he is merciful. Since everything God created is dependent on him, everything he does to sustain his creatures is an act of mercy. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and everything else that keeps us alive, are gifts from the mercy of God. Can you see why David’s psalm says “his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9)?
God’s ultimate act of mercy was sending his Son to die to deliver people from sin. If you are a believer, you were once helpless and hopeless, but in his mercy God sent his Son to be your Saviour (Luke 1:76-79). Could you have saved yourself? Freed yourself from slavery to sin? Could you have opened your own spiritually blind eyes? Raised yourself from spiritual death? No, you were completely dependent on God to rescue you. In mercy Christ died for you, in mercy God cleansed you from sin, and in mercy the Spirit empowers you to obey (Titus 3:3-5). You had no hope until your merciful God “caused [you] to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). You have been saved because God is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4-5), and you belong to him because you have received his mercy (1 Peter 2:10).
There is no limit to the mercy of God. “His mercies never come to an end,” but are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Every day is a fresh opportunity to experience new mercies from his never-ending, never-run-dry supply. From God’s infinite mercy, there is always more help for you.
And every day is a fresh opportunity for God’s children to “be merciful, even as [our] Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).” Indeed, one of the reasons God chose to be merciful to us is so we will be merciful to others. He “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). In his mercy, God saw our need and rescued us, and now he invites us to imitate him by helping those who need our help.
When you care for your sick children — rocking them to sleep, giving them medicine, wiping their noses, or mopping up after they throw up — you are reflecting the mercy of God. If you help your elderly neighbor with yardwork he’s too frail to finish on his own, you are showing him mercy. When people from my church donated clothing, furniture, or money to support the Syrian family, they were instruments of God’s mercy. And when we share the gospel, the story of God's mercy to sinners, we are giving hope to the hopeless like our merciful God gives hope to the hopeless. Any poverty, weakness, illness, pain, or hopelessness we see is an opportunity for us to show mercy because God has shown us mercy.