Many years ago I took this personality test to find out more about myself. I was definitely curious, but I did it more for my friend Lisa. She loves stuff like that. I can’t recall if I am an ISFJ or an INTJ or an ENTP or some other acronym, but Lisa knows which I am, even after all these years. She rattled it off to me just a few weeks ago. Now that’s the sign of a good friend. The only thing that stuck with me about the test is that when given various scenarios where judgment and mercy were part of the equation and I had to choose one of the two, I chose judgment. Every time. Without fail. It didn’t come as a surprise to me since I’ve always had a strong sense of justice. My childhood dream was to become a lawyer who would fight to ensure punishment for the guilty. Apparently there were a lot of people I wanted God to punish.
My strong sense of justice has anchored me for many years. And there is nothing wrong with wanting God to judge righteously. But mercy never really crossed my mind when it came to wrongdoing. Even though I was a recipient of mercy, and lots of it, I honestly never gave it much thought. It wasn’t until I fell in love with a song titled Mercy, by Amanda Cook, that I really began to dwell on its true significance. You see, the words in the song are directed toward God but they are meant for us. The chorus, “You delight in showing mercy and mercy triumphs over judgment” is pulled from two scriptures found in the books of Micah and James, respectively.
The simplest definition of mercy is when you don’t get the punishment you deserve. Mercy presents itself as an act of compassion that is interwoven with grace and forgiveness and is set into motion by love.
Everyone wants mercy. If you are pulled over by the police for speeding you are hoping for mercy. When you did something wrong as a kid you longed for mercy from your parents. We NEVER want the punishment we deserve. That’s why we tend to lie when we are caught in the wrong. Every cognitive person on God’s planet has wanted mercy at one time or another and every person has received mercy. Even if you don’t believe in Him you are still the benefactor of the mercy of a God you claim doesn’t exist. You may be one of those who believe that spontaneity in the universe is how we got here but you can’t possibly think that it spit out intangible gifts like mercy and love. And if you reason that they are a product of the goodness of man then you really don’t know the human race at all. God has demonstrated His mercy in the simplest of ways, like allowing us to take our next breath, and in ways that our minds can’t fully understand, like condemning His Son to endure a horrific beating and death just so we can have the opportunity to be with Him if we so choose. That is truly a gift beyond comprehension. And not only does God continually show us mercy, the book of Micah tells us that He delights in it. Yep, it’s true. The heart of the Creator of the universe is moved with joy when He is merciful to us. Even when we think we are too smart to believe in Him. Even when we think we are good enough without Him. And even when we who love Him fail to reflect His goodness. Yep. Even then.
One of the most compelling biblical accounts of mercy can be found in the story of Jonah. You probably know the guy. He didn’t want to do what God wanted him to do and so he ended up in the belly of a giant fish, or whale if you prefer. He pleaded with God to rescue him and he was shown mercy and the fish went to the beach and vomited him out. Jonah found himself in that predicament because he ran from God when he was told to go the very wicked city of Nineveh and preach repentance. Since the inhabitants of Nineveh, the Assyrians, were enemies of Jonah’s people (Israel), Jonah wanted no part of it. (The next sentence is not for anyone under the age of 14.) And it didn’t help that the Assyrians made sport of killing people by first skinning them alive and then chopping off their heads and putting them on posts around the city to let people know they meant business. Here’s an interesting fact: what was Nineveh is now called Mosul, the headquarters of ISIS. Kind of creepy that the Assyrians from back in the day liked brutalizing people in the same manner as ISIS, and they are located in the same city. People, this is not a coincidence. Anyway, God’s sole reason for sending Jonah to Nineveh is a mission of mercy. You would think that with Israel being God’s chosen people that He’d want to utterly destroy the barbarians who were torturing and killing them. I gotta tell you that until I got some Holy Spirit revelation on this, I was with Jonah all the way. After all, who wants to see their mortal enemies spared? They deserved judgment, not mercy. But mercy is what mattered to God.
So Jonah goes to Nineveh and walks around the city shouting “40 daysuntil Nineveh is destroyed!” The city is so huge it takes him 3 days to get around it. Jonah was probably thinking, “It’s bad enough that I had to come to this wretched city, can’t I at least have a horse so I can get this thing over with?” To his dismay, the Assyrians do exactly what Jonah thought they would. They repent. And then God does exactly what Jonah feared He would do. He relents. He shows them mercy and spares them. And Jonah is ticked! He’s so angry he wants God to kill him. He says to God, “see I knew you would do this. That’s why I ran away. I knew that you are a God full of mercy and compassion, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord!” He has one heck of a temper tantrum. Instead of smacking him to his senses, God gives Jonah an object lesson on mercy. While Jonah is sitting on a hill pouting about this whole Nineveh thing, and although he doesn’t deserve it, God causes a plant to grow to provide shade for his sun-scorched head and Jonah is grateful. That’s because Jonah likes being shown mercy. Don’t we all? Then God destroys the plant and Jonah is angry. Angry enough to die is what he tells God. God says to Jonah, “you feel sorry for a dead plant that you had nothing to do with, so why shouldn’t I feel sorry for 120,000 people who were living in spiritual darkness.” BOOM! Jonah wanted mercy for himself but he didn’t want to give it to his enemies and he didn’t want God to either. But in the Word it tells us that he who shows no mercy will receive no mercy. And since none of us can afford to be without mercy we should probably start being generous with it.
As an often overly zealous champion of justice, there have been too many times that I’ve reacted like Jonah. Mercy wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, because like Jonah, I didn’t really understand what was at stake. And though I had received it more times than I can count and was grateful, I don’t think I ever grasped the true value of mercy. I didn’t only believe others should get what they deserved I believed I should too. That was the only way true justice could be achieved. God used the song that I became infatuated with to open the eyes of my heart. I began to tap into the burden that God feels for people deserving judgment but needing mercy. I now see and experience God in a way that I hadn’t before. My focus has changed. God continues to show me that mercy should matter to me because it matters to Him. And it matters to Him because He takes great joy in giving us gifts that we don’t deserve. So even though justice is important I’ve come to embrace God’s truth that mercy triumphs over judgment.