Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12–13 (NIV)
It is most likely a mistake to presume that the time in which we are living is unprecedented. While we are amid chaotic times, it is difficult to accurately assess the historical significance. There are worries over violence, pandemics, instability in financial markets as well as moral and social upheaval which concern many people. While these can be considered as grave dangers to our way of life, the way in which we respond is even more critical. It is easy to slip into an adversarial attitude of “Us Versus Them” and longingly look forward to the judgment of God to set things right. The Old Testament is full of examples of appeals to God to “avenge his faithful servants.”
But God is a God of mercy and forgiveness and he has always been a God of mercy and forgiveness. But this does not always set well with everyone! Jonah knew this about God and became angry when the people of Nineveh responded to his message and repented of their sins and God forgave them. To Jonah’s way of thinking, the people of Nineveh were evil and so they deserved punishment rather than mercy because God’s people should be an exclusive lot. Jonathan Swift, Irish author known for Gulliver’s Travels, wrote a verse which reflects Jonah’s mindset:
We are God’s chosen few,
All others will be damned;
There is no place in heaven for you,
We can’t have heaven crammed.
When we perceive that we are under assault, it is easy to slip into a mindset that desires judgment over mercy, perhaps because of self-righteousness and vindication, but we must remember that Jesus taught us a new way of thinking and living: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:43–45 (NLT). There has been a bumper sticker in circulation for some time that says, “When Jesus said, love your enemies, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean kill them.” When confronted with evil people it is natural to seek judgment and retribution, but it is supernatural to love our enemies and to be “ministers of reconciliation.”
To be a follower of Jesus means that our attitudes and desires should be like his. “…He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT). We should ask ourselves this question, “Do we really want everyone to repent and be saved?” If we cannot honestly answer yes to that question it is an indication that we have a mercy deficiency. It is a dangerous thing to long for and anticipate God’s judgment upon our enemies. That may have been the prevailing attitude until Jesus came, but he rejected it and replaced it with the law of love even to the point of telling us that our relationship with him is dependent upon how we love others along with our willingness to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7 (NIV)
The command of Jesus to “love our enemies” can be very difficult to accept especially in the light of evil, injustice and other atrocities, but he did not tell us to love our enemies only until we believe they have gone beyond redemption. We are to be people of mercy because as James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” However, this can only occur in our lives as we embrace the mercy and love that has been shown to us to overcome our fear. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.” 1 John 4:18–19 (NLT)
For us to be effective ambassadors of Jesus Christ, we must be convinced, thoroughly convinced, that we are loved by God, because only when we know that we are loved by God are we able to love others. It is when we are secure in God’s love that we can dare to reach out to others in mercy. In other words, for us to extend our hand to help someone else, our feet must be securely planted on the Rock. To judge others may be a natural inclination, but to show mercy, even to our “enemies,” is evidence that we have been transformed by the love of God. Mercy triumphs over judgment!