Friday, May 2, 2008

Becoming More Merciful

It's May, so my resolution for the month is to become more merciful. As has become my custom for the initial post on each topic, I am going to dig a bit into the meaning of the word itself - "merciful".

First, from the Bible Dictionary:

"Mercy" is not defined in the Bible Dictionary, but "Mercy Seat" is - and the definition provides some interesting points of consideration. The definition says, "The golden covering of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. It was the place of the manifestation of God’s glory and his meeting place with his people (Ex. 25: 22; Lev. 16: 2; Num. 7: 89); and was regarded as the Throne of God (cf. Ex. 30: 6). Here the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled on the day of Atonement (Lev. 16: 14-15)."

About "The Ark of the Covenant", the description includes the following - "It was the oldest and most sacred of the religious symbols of the Israelites, and the Mercy Seat which formed its covering was regarded as the earthly dwelling place of Jehovah . . . The usual resting place of the Ark was in the Holy of Holies. ("Also called Most Holy Place. The most sacred room in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple as contrasted with the Holy Place.")

So, the "Mercy Seat" was seen as the place where Israel's God lived while he visited His people, housed within the "Most Holy" room in the temple, and sprinkled with the blood that symbolized the Atonement.

This means that "mercy" is connected intimately with the Atonement, is associated with how God manifests his glory and represents how He "meets" us. Frankly, my mind is spinning a bit right now, as I have not considered this type of definition before now. I have a feeling this paragraph alone will be the basis of more than one post this month.

From dictionary.com, the definitions of "mercy" that best fit the scriptural foundation of the Mercy Seat are:

1) leniency and compassion shown toward offenders by a person or agency charged with administering justice;
2) Forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it.

The opposite of "mercy" is "justice" - which is "the administering of deserved punishment or reward".

From these definitions, it appears to me that the Mercy Seat was so named to make it obvious to the House of Israel that their interaction with God was conditioned on His willingness to not treat them as they deserved to be treated - to share His glory with them, even though it was not theirs to have naturally - to "forgive them their trespasses" and dwell with them even in their fallen and undeserving state.

As a foundation, therefore, if I am to be more merciful ("acting with mercy"), at the most fundamental level I must bridle my natural reactions to punish or administer justice when people do not measure up to what I believe they "should" do and treat them better than I believe they "deserve" to be treated. It is important to note, just as with the other characteristics I have been striving to develop, that this might be grounded in feeling and understanding, but in order to be truly internalized it must extend to action - to becoming more merciful by acting more mercifully.

I want to dig deeper into the interplay of mercy and grace, but this foundation is enough for me to consider for a few days at least - especially, for example, how it relates to my interaction in the world of blogging.

9 comments:

Mama D said...

Wow! There is a lot to think about with these definitions. I believe that I tend to view mercy on a far more shallow basis than it deserves. I know the Savior extends mercy to us. However, too often my actions seem to say that I take it for granted. Thanks for giving me something to contemplate as I strive to become truly more merciful.

Patty said...

I love the idea of the Savior's mercy being the place we meet God. It's right at that moment that we are forgiven and shown mercy that we are allowed into God's presence again.
It amazes me to think that Jesus, being the lawgiver, could easily exact the full price for every sin, but instead shows us "leniency and compassion."
Another beautiful and thought provoking post. (Not like that's a surprise!)

Anonymous said...

You are the man, Ray, Man Ray.

"...tend to view...."

Papa D said...

I don't understand the last comment, but I can't see how it violates the rules for this blog, so it is being allowed.

If "Anonymous" is still reading this, or if anyone else understands it, please explain it further.

Papa D said...

Let me rephrase my last comment. I think I might understand it and would delete it if I am correct, but I'm not sure I am right - so I released it from moderation.

Stephen said...

"I must bridle my natural reactions to punish or administer justice when people do not measure up to what I believe they "should" do and treat them better than I believe they "deserve" to be treated. It is important to note, just as with the other characteristics I have been striving to develop, that this might be grounded in feeling and understanding, but in order to be truly internalized it must extend to action - to becoming more merciful by acting more mercifully."

Well said, it is why I decided to stop trying to engage my troll.

Sojourner said...

Sometimes trying to do something more involves doing something less. In order for me to become more merciful I need to stay off God's mercy seat and let Him be in charge of dispensing the mercy as I bow at his feet. The mercy he pours upon me becomes the mercy within me.

Darrell said...

I too love the concept of the mercy seat. Especially in light of the mercy seat prefiguring (in my thinking atleast) the two angels at either end of the place where they laid the body of Christ and where the ressurection took place.

Some more thoughts: Ray, are you really sure that mercy is the opposite of justice? It almost seems to me (and I will have to wrap my mind around this a little more) that justice and mercy are, in the eternal scheme of things, joined. Justice must be tempered with mercy but there still needs to be justice. Justice is not always a bad thing and mercy is not always good, especially if it is ill-timed mercy. Ill-timed mercy will allow someone to avoid the consequences of their actions and we need consequences. They are essential to learning and progression.

So perhaps, as I think more about this, does the timing of mercy have value? Isn't mercy best given after repentance? Is releasing someone from the consequences of their actions really mercy? Are we to extend mercy to all? Forgiveness yes. But mercy? I am not sure, especially under your definition #1.

To coin a phrase: These are the wonderings of a free-flowing mind. :-) You, as usual, have opened up whole areas of thought that I hadn't considered. Thanks again for making me think.

Papa D said...

Great question about mercy and justice. As I read your comment, I thought, "Yes, they truly are opposites, but they are the opposite sides of the same coin."

As I thought about that, I realized that by simply saying they are opposites I might have given the impression that one (mercy) is good and the other (justice) is bad. I didn't mean that; I just mean that one is giving what we don't deserve, and the other is giving what we do deserve. I think both can be godly (administered righteously) or ungodly (administered unrighteously).

I just had a thought that I'm going to have to chew on for a bit. Perhaps I'll use it as the foundation for the next post this month.