Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Riding the truth tracks

WHEN KING DAVID finally faces the enormity of his sin in that dark episode involving Bathsheba and Uriah, he knows that he has nothing to offer God by way of excuse. He doesn’t try to remind him that he’s written some good worship songs, or that he’s pretty popular with the people. Rather, he appeals to his only hope: God’s goodness.

David’s famous prayer of confession and contrition in Psalm 51 begins with him acknowledging that his plea is being made “according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy” (v 1.). That’s the basis on which David pleads for restoration and renewal.

If the good news of the kingdom of God is a train—as Curtis Mayfield sang in People Get Ready—then the two rails it runs on must be these two fundamental truths: 1) God’s love is steadfast and 2) His mercy is abundant.

Most of us have experienced some measure of conditional love in even our closest relationships. We learn others will love us if we, when we, so we, because we… in other words, their love comes and goes. God’s love is steadfast (dictionary: “resolutely firm and unwavering; immovable; not subject to change; incapable of being diverted”).

We have also experienced grudging mercy: “I’ll let it go this time, but I’m watching you.” God’s mercy is abundant (dictionary: “existing or occurring in large amounts; marked by great plenty; amply supplied”).

Of these two “truth tracks,” it seems to me God’s steadfast love is more widely celebrated (spoken and sung about) in most churches. His mercy, not so much; here we seem to prefer to focus on God’s grace, which many see as mercy’s flipside. Why is this? I suspect it may have something to do with the old definition of “grace meaning we get what we don’t deserve and mercy meaning we don’t get what we do deserve.”

When we focus on God’s grace, our attention is kind of external—it’s on the good things God does for us, the blessings. There’s plenty to feel good about there. Focusing on God’s mercy requires us to turn inward. It requires a recognition of some need in us—some brokenness, fallenness, or waywardness—that’s less comfortable.

Some might argue the reason for emphasizing grace is because it is “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). That’s true, but God’s grace in our salvation might be considered just the method. The motive: His mercy. First Peter 1:3 says that “according to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (emphasis added). As some commentators have observed, God’s mercy seems to precede His grace.

 As Mayfield’s song goes on to observe, “There’s no hiding place/Against the kingdom’s throne.” We need both rails—God’s steadfast love and His abundant mercy—to keep us straight.

Photo: Jake Weirick

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