Mercy


For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

and treads on the heights of the earth—

the LORD, the God of hosts is his name!

Amos 4: 13

 

The Israel of Amos’ day was not in a good place, and neither was the world around them. Yet, this was a time when things looked great in Israel, for the nation was wealthy and its economy was growing rapidly. It was enjoying a time of relative calm and peace, and Assyria to the north was dealing with its own internal issues and was no longer threatening Israel and Judah. Yet, this prosperity and peace were gained by the few who were powerful at the expense of many who were being oppressed. Their worship was only nominally focused upon the one true God as they sought to find favor from any form of deity that seems good or helpful in the moment. The Israelites were certainly glad and thankful for the help when an enemy was defeated or was being held in check by various forces and causes that did not require the expenditure of Israel’s wealth or other resources, but they were mostly reliant upon themselves and in their leader’s wisdom and guile for this worldly success.

 

At this time, God sent a prophet to speak about the situation in their land and the one in the world around them, too. He speaks of God’s anger and distress at the way that people are living, and Amos focusses on the unjust and oppressive tactics that have been utilized in order to gain power, wealth, and position. This is true for the nations around Israel, and it is sadly true for God’s own people as well. Although God allows us to make our own choices regarding the way that we will live and for the direction that our nations will go, He will not let us continue in an ungodly direction indefinitely. He has the power and the universal authority that it takes to change things when the time is right from His point of view to do so. This reality is what Amos is reminding us of in this verse. This God who we are ignoring and trivializing by the way that we are living is the same God who formed the ground that we stand upon and who shaped the mountains where we go to worship.

 

Even more impressively, the Lord has formed and shaped us into beings that can think and act upon those thoughts. Our capacity to build up and to create the world that gives us our wealth and comfort is something that God, Himself, has gifted to us. However, His intent in so devising people was that we would care for this world in a loving and a just manner and that we would worship Him with the totality of our beings. Just care for our world and for all the life that is upon it is the objective of our God-given mission on the earth. Worship of God is the means by which we stay true to that calling and is to be the central focus of all that we do in the course of life. When we stop orienting the totality of our love, adoration, and praise toward God, we start to lose our ability to truly love and care for others as Christ desires for us to do. As we turn away from worshiping God with all that we are, we tend to start worshiping ourselves and the possessions that we desire and enjoy, and this state of heart and mind leads us into thinking and acting in a manner that is much like the Israelites in Amos’ days were doing. As the prophet reminded them and tells us, God is not pleased by this behavior, and He will not wait forever before He makes things right in the world.

 

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But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18: 16

 

On the surface of it all, it would seem that Jesus liked children. Now I think that He probably did enjoy them. Although, He had none of His own, it is easy for me to envision Jesus playing with a group of children, telling them stories, and comforting them when they fell and were scraped and bruised. All of that seems reasonable, and it all fits into my image of how God views the behaviors of children, too. The Lord delights in the simple innocence that they bring to much of what they do, and He also is overjoyed when that innocence in life transitions into a simple and easy faith in God, Himself. God is fully aware of just how much harder in becomes to have faith in Him as we gain in years and grow in the depth of our human understandings. The knowledge and the experience that we acquire tends to get in the way of accepting Christ based upon faith alone.

 

So, Jesus wanted to have the opportunity to engage with the young ones who had not become too wise and gained worldly understanding that was greater than their own good. They were easier to talk with about living in the manner that God desires for us to live. They were open to having their lives shaped by God’s Law as they gave themselves over to following the Lord in all aspects of life. Unfortunately, this sort of total and absolute surrender becomes ever more difficult for us as we become older, for then we believe that we know better than do others, including God, and we think that we have too much to lose in surrendering our lives to Christ. All of this is untrue; yet, this is the sort of thinking that holds people back from entering into a relationship with Christ, and this is also a part of what keeps those of us who already know Him from opening up and yielding all of ourselves to the transformative work of the Spirit.

 

In fact, we do not need to be young in years in order to come to Christ and to enter into a full and complete relationship with Him; however, it helps greatly if we have an attitude of youthful enthusiasm for Christ and for His Word and if we can set aside complex reasoning and simply accept eternal truth as being real, valid, and absolute. There come times in all of our lives when we must enter into this sort of surrender. We will all encounter situations and conditions in life that are beyond our ability to reason them out or to think our way to a satisfactory conclusion. The necessity of faith is inevitable, for we all will come to a place where the only option available to us is the one where we come to Jesus and let Him give us the comfort, care, and strength that we need to continue on through the day. There will be a time when everyone needs to be like a little child in the presence of the One who loves us beyond this life and into eternity.

 

So God created man in his image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And god said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Genesis 1: 27, 28

 

How does God view life? This is a question that gets thrown about and discussed a great deal in both religious and in secular circles. It seems that most of the conversation on this topic is focused on the aspect of life as it exists prior to birth, and this is an important part of the definition of life and its value, but it is certainly not the only aspect of this discussion. In fact, I think that the bigger picture conversation regarding God’s view of the value of people is the real starting point for entering into one about the pre-born and how we view those lives. I submit that God cares greatly about each and every person who exists on the earth. There are none that have a greater or a lesser status or that are formed with an inferior make-up or right to be loved, cared about, and embraced as God’s own creation. Every one of us is a descendant of these first people, and as such, each of us has been blessed by the touch of the Creator, Himself, and is devised and formed in a manner that directly reflects that thing that the text calls the “image of God.”

 

If I stop to think about this for a while and ponder it with real consideration of what God is telling us about this valuable work of His own hands, I might begin to view other people differently. Each person that I encounter in any manner is a product of God’s personal workmanship. Every category of people that is defined by human thought and language is also made of individual people who may happen to have certain tangible characteristics or qualities in common but who are each also descendants from this creative beginning. Thus, there are no groups of people who do not deserve to be respected and whose value is less than others in the eyes of God. I believe that caring for all people of this earth is an important part of the responsibility to rule over the earth, this dominion, that God has charged us with doing as our primary calling in dwelling here. Thus, gender, race, religion, nationality, wealth or poverty, sexual identity or orientation, and even personality and temperament are not to be held up as cause for exclusion from engagement in caring for people and for being involved in the well-being of their existences.

 

Admittedly, this sort of involvement is difficult, and caring for people is never easy or simple. This is a hard world, and these are complex times in its history, but God tells us that we can turn to Him and that we can rely upon His wisdom, grace, strength, and provision during all of the hard times and with each of our difficult challenges in all aspects of life and living. Yet, God is clear on this, and He holds each moment of every life as precious and the existence of that life as above and beyond our authority to decide or determine. Human life and its duration are God’s to decide. This is a badly broken world, and there is violence and sinful disregard for God’s law of peace running loose in all corners of our planet. Although, God would have us turn to Him and rely upon His ability to heal all forms of hurts and settle every type of disagreement, there are times when people with destructive intent are present among us, and they require force and even violence to hold them in check. I hold that even these acts of self-defense and preservation run against God’s desire and will, but they are also covered by grace, forgiveness, and understanding on the part of the Creator. As to the loudest topic in this arena of the value of life, it seems clear to me that the unborn are people who are created and formed by God in His image, they have no capacity to speak for or to defend themselves, and their protection is of paramount importance in our God given mandate to rule justly over all of the earth.

My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness.

But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

Psalm 55: 4; 6 & 7; 16

 

David feels like each of us has probably felt at one time or another. Whatever the cause of the fear and the anguish, it is real, and it is oppressively bearing down on him. There is no escaping the weight of it as there appears to be real opposition coming from within those who should be closest to him. Let’s face it, almost everyone faces times in our lives when even the friendliest of gestures can be misunderstood as being intended for conflict so that there is no rest to be found in the course of the day. These are hard times to be in the middle of, for it does seem like the safest and the best thing that can be done is to get far away from the situation at hand and from the people who are in our lives. Thus, we want fly off into the unknown out there as that far off land cannot be worse than the pain that is pouring over our heads in the present time and place.

 

Yet, there are not a lot of situations and circumstances where God actually tells us to run, to escape, or to flee to a far-away place. Most of the time, the Lord asks us to stay put and to trust in Him to come into the middle of the struggle and to join us in overcoming all that is causing the anxiety and the distress. Sometimes He reorients our thinking so that the real issues are sorted out from the ones that we are perceiving. This is often the case when we believe that the problems that are before us are being caused by people so that eliminating those people from our world looks as if that is the solution. God rarely leads us away from people; instead, He usually works in our hearts and minds to achieve understanding, forgiveness, and grace so that relationships are built rather than terminated.

 

Calling out to God is not always the easiest or the safest thing that we can do. Frequently, He asks us to engage with people and in activities that are uncomfortable or that even seem emotionally unsafe at that time. This is the place where our human frailty and our tendency to rely upon ourselves as the primary resource that we utilize in navigating life’s challenges collides with faith in Christ and with trust in the Lord to be our strength, wisdom, and true source of deliverance in all aspects of life. Christ asks us to follow Him into the stormy waters of this world, and He calls upon us to leave behind our apprehensions and our fear-inspired tendency to seek escape when things look too hard or when the task before us seems daunting beyond our capacity. These are those moments when we have little left to rely upon other than our voices, weak as they may be at that time, so that we can follow David in crying out to the Lord in anticipation of the saving grace that He will pour over us.

Violence shall no more be heard in your land,

devastation or destruction within your borders;

you shall call your walls Salvation,

and your gates Praise.

Isaiah 60: 18

 

Violence is shouting out its fury and its rage in our land. There seems to be no end to its repetitive chant and to the tragic results of its actions. Sadness and grief follow in Lord Violence’s wake as night follows day. The shroud of death and destruction is seen in lands far away and in the houses down the block from where I sit now. When will it all end, O Lord! Where is the justice that Your Word promises, and when will the devastation be brought to an end? I fear that these days appear to be too much like the ones in Noah’s times when our world was described like this, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Gn. 6: 11) At that time, Lord, You caused a great flood and wiped the slate all but clean in order to check the bloodshed. Today, we cry out for even the mist of a cleansing rain to come to wash the stains from our streets.

 

Yet, You do come. Your Spirit is among us, and You are dwelling in our homes and walking along our streets. The evil that resides among us and that brings its violence with it is not comfortably settled in our world. It is lashing out in desperation and in the blind fury of one who can see the end of its time. Satan has already tasted the bitter herb of defeat as he has observed Christ’s victory over all that he and this world could throw at Him. Even with the full weight of our collective sin upon His shoulders, Jesus overcame death and arose victorious from a tightly sealed and guarded grave. He comes now to take with Him the innocent ones that the dark lord has attempted to claim as his, and Christ also saves for eternity those older ones among us who turn to Him as our true Lord and Savior. There is no one that Christ wishes to leave behind when He proclaims the names of the righteous ones before the great throne of the Lord.

 

God has made another promise to us, for He has stated in absolutely clear terms that there will be an end to the days when evil and its violence will even exist upon the earth. Very early in humanity’s narrative we brought all of this destruction and death and the resultant grief upon ourselves by virtue of our sinful rebellion. In a day that will soon be upon us, God will send Christ back to end these days of Satanic tyranny upon earth. At that time, all that is cause for fear and everything that brings about terror will be thrown down and cease to exist in any form. The dark shadows of evil will be erased by the glory of the new sun that is the Lord and our darkened understanding of justice, mercy, and love will be made bright and clear by the light of truth that emanates from Christ. Until this day, we can enter into the peace and the love that God holds out for His people by claiming the eternal promise that is found in Christ alone. Even in these hard days before the fulfillment of God’s promise of total and complete redemption, we can dwell in the presence of the glory of the Lord as we are bathed in the healing mercy of Christ’s infinite love and grace.

The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

And He thrust out the enemy before you and said, “Destroy!”

Deuteronomy 33: 27

 

Personally, I am very uncomfortable, even disturbed, by the idea of destroying an enemy. So are most people who I know. In our world this is the sort of thing that gets handled in video games, but it is not what we are supposed to do in real life. On those occasions when it does happen, headlines scream about the brutality, and the violence of our world is called into question. Yet, there are enemies in our times, and they pose an enormous threat to our peace and well-being and to people’s eternal souls.

 

When Moses wrote these words, it was quite clear that he was speaking about the various groups, tribes, and nations that stood in the way of Israel’s dwelling in Canaan. However, the real issue wasn’t the groups of people that opposed them; the challenge that the Israelites faced was the one of remaining true to God’s will, to His expressed desire for them and to living righteously. They were continually drawn away from God by the satanic promise of a better way and a higher knowledge. The Israelites readily turned toward a seemingly easy truth that was defined in the eyes of people. The true destruction that needed to take place involved the utter cleansing of their world so that no scrap or crumb of evil would remain to entice and to entrap them. Yet, this was very hard to do, and they did not choose to follow through.

 

We are still faced with this same challenge today. God provides us with a place of dwelling that is currently situated in a very troubled world. For it seems that the actual dwelling that God is providing is the refuge of His constant care and absolute protection for our souls. His arms of grace, mercy, strength, and blessing do completely enfold His people. Still, we do have a part to play in fulfilling God’s plan and in living within our calling. We cannot wait and watch from the imagined safety of our sanctuary and silently allow evil to reign in our world. When there is wrong afoot, we must step in to protect the weak. As anti-God attempts to control our land and rule its people, Christ demands that His followers respond. Each of us is called to examine and to purify our hearts, and we are led by Christ to walk in the dangerous way of God’s truth. When we are face to face with evil, God orders us to use His weapons of grace, love, protection for the weak, and truth, and so, “Destroy!” the effect and the grasp of evil on those around us.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4: 7

 

People want to be loved and to give love. It is something that we seek after and pursue with great energy and, at times, with singular focus. It is also something that we get very wrong, for broken relationships and heartache are very common. We expect that we will be frustrated and saddened by the way that these sorts of feelings change and turn sad for us. This process of feeling strong emotion in both friendship and in romance is a part of growing into adulthood, and so is that aspect of it all wherein those relationships end and so we learn to move on to the anticipation of other, new relationships. Some of us are able to settle into friendships and romances that last for the duration of our lives, and some of us never find those people who are with us throughout the journey that is ahead.

 

It seems that John has learned to see love from a different point of view. His understanding of love is that it starts with God and then is poured out into and over people. When John addresses his audience as beloved, he is referring to the fact that he loves them because God loves them and also because God loves him in an abundant and unending manner. When Jesus summoned the young man named John from his good life as a fisherman and called him to follow along the hard road in the company of the Messiah, that was an act performed and perpetuated by love. John’s entire life from that day forward was defined by the love that he saw Jesus pour out onto the world so that John continued to do the same for the remainder of his long and productive life. In many respects, the verse here could have been John’s so-called life verse, for it exemplifies the way that Christ led him to think, feel, and act in every aspect of his life.

 

Now John is granting us insight into the eternal wisdom that has guided his journey. God truly loves every one of us, and He desires that we would turn to Him in order to become close and intimate with Him. In Christ, we can know a love that has no limits, that sets no conditions, and that will not become cold and distant. Through the presence of Christ in us we can learn to love in this same manner, and this is the love that can change the way that we engage with the rest of the world. First, like John, we must accept the reality of being loved by God, of being His beloved daughter or son, for it is this love that softens our rough edges and grants us the gift of grace that makes it possible to accept and to learn to love a wide range of other people. Then we can give the love that we are receiving away and pour it out into the world around us. It is God’s love that provides balance to righteousness, and Christ’s love gives us a heavenly perspective on mercy, justice, and seeking after peace in these troubled days. In Christ we are given such an exquisite abundance of love that its overflowing from us can break down walls of division, overturn political rancor, and bring peace where enmity has always ruled the day.

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