The Power of Mercy
8. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
29. The Lord is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
9. He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.
I entitled this essay “The Power of Mercy,” yet so far I have focused on the need for mercy and the price of mercy. The main mention of power was that of obtaining forgiveness of sins, which will obviously be useful in the next life. But there is power in being forgiven even in this life, as is hinted at above. The proverbs above imply that prayer works better for those who are righteous. For those of us whose righteousness leaves something to be desired, there is forgiveness. Jesus said as much in the following two scriptures:
23. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
25. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
26. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
Note that there are two aspects of forgiveness mentioned: physical forgiveness through the legal system and forgiveness within the heart. Unless Jesus is being metaphorical in the first passage, spiritual action alone is insufficient.
I cannot claim that you will get miraculous answers to your prayers if you follow the guidelines above. There are other aspects of prayer, and I claim no special expertise on the subject. But it does appear to be an important factor.
There are other benefits of mercy that are more readily observed. The safety and prosperity of our nation would be greatly enhanced through the proper application of mercy. The War on Drugs has clogged our legal system, encouraged real crimes and created an international black market used to fund terrorists worldwide. By making prostitution illegal instead of strictly regulated, sexually transmitted diseases have been spread to a greater degree. Making needle exchange programs illegal has compounded the problem by spreading AIDS among heroin users.
Lack of mercy over the centuries has tainted the image of Christianity. After Constantine, the Church went from being persecuted to being persecutor. This has provided moral ammo for non-Christians to this day. By forcibly demanding conversion to Christianity, the Church ended up recruiting members who were not Christian in their hearts. This allowed pagan elements to filter into Christian worship traditions: Christmas trees, Easter eggs, and assorted pagan holidays renamed as saints’ days. The Church would have been better off allowing the heathen to stay outside until they were ready to change.
I have had some opportunity to use the power of mercy myself. Because I advocate legalization of many personal vices and other protections of personal liberty, I am welcome in many venues where hatred of fundamentalist Christianity is the norm. On my car I have both an anti abortion bumper sticker and a “Legalize Hemp” bumper sticker. This combination allows me to be anti-abortion without being branded as “anti-choice.”
The initial growth of Christianity came from much greater acts of mercy. The peaceful acceptance of the martyrs has been our greatest testament of faith. Countless acts of charity have brought in many a convert, a process that continues to this day.
Ah, charity; this is an aspect of mercy I have given scant coverage in this essay. Here, I have focused on forgiveness vs. the Religious Right’s call for enforcing Christian standards of morality. What about the Religious Left’s call for using the might of the state to enforce charity?
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Copyright© 2006, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.
Quotations from the NET Bible®, copyright© 1996-2006 Biblical Studies Press L.L.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission from http://bible.org. (The NET Bible is available in its entirety as a free download or online use at http://netbible.org)