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Mercy, Truth, and Tweezers

Mercy alone can be harmful.

My five year old recently came inside crying because she got a splinter. Mercy rose up in me. I knew the splinter had to come out. But when I tried to remove it, she recoiled in pain, screaming, “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!” My efforts to bring healing were hurting her.

In your life, maybe it’s not a splinter but loneliness, exorbitant financial debt, high blood pressure, cancer, a troubled marriage, a gender identity conflict, sexual temptations or addictions, unwanted same-sex attractions, current problems stemming from past abuse or neglect.

Mercy wants to rush in with comfort, kisses, anything to relieve pain, calm fears, ease aloneness. (Oh how we need more mercy on the earth!)

But here’s where mercy alone fails us: The pathway to restoration usually requires more pain, not less. And because it aims to alleviate pain, mercy falters. And if it does, it ends up cooperating with the source of the original pain. It makes an allegiance with the true problem. (Incidentally, this is happening in so many sectors of our present culture: problems of debt, sex and sexuality, obesity, politics, busyness.)

For my little girl, mercy alone would have left her limping and fearful. With bigger problems, when healing requires greater pain, the consequences are much more substantial where mercy balks.

To be truly merciful, mercy needs truth.

Where mercy’s focus is easing pain, truth’s focus is exposing and dealing with the source of the problem. (Truth needs mercy, too—the topic of next week’s post.)

The cross is so important here. In the cross, mercy and truth are wed. They become loving allies, a unit, always working together. Truth empowers mercy to be truly merciful.

Whether receiving mercy for yourself or letting it arise in you for the good of another, you need more mercy, not less. Receive mercy and truth together.

I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree that mercy without truth can bring harm? In what ways have you experienced how truth empowers mercy to be truly merciful? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Finding my tweezers,

20 thoughts on “Mercy, Truth, and Tweezers”

  1. Great article! As a Christian counselor, I find that most people–myself included–want the mercy that God so freely pours into our lives, but we try to run from the truth. Indeed, it is the truth that ultimately sets us free. Thank God for the cushion of mercy He provides as we face the truth and experience His healing!

  2. In John 1:14, it states that Jesus was “full or grace and truth.” Without truth, grace can become cheap. Without grace, truth is the Law and we are free from the Law. Both are necessary and are what God intended in yet another co-existent apparent tension that we so often find in Scripture.

  3. What a brilliant analogy, but I would like to add an additional point. We have to be willing to use the tweezers. We have to believe that the mercy and vehicle based on truth will lead is to somewhere better. The splinter will cause pain and potentially get infected. Swelling, pain, etc makes the splinter location unusable. We have to recognize that somethin greater will come and the knowledge that we will be infinitely more effective without the splinter.

  4. I definitely agree that mercy without truth can bring harm. As the first part of Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Sadly, I think many in the church reverse this whole equation, and they apply truth without mercy. When that happens, there’s no sense of compassion or love. In fact, it has a tendency to feel like you’ve been hit upside the head with a baseball bat. The beauty of mercy and truth truly is when they’re combined.

    1. That’s a great point, Don. I agree and know too many people who have experienced that. I’m one of them. I’m going to speak to truth’s need of mercy in next week’s post. Tune in! Great to hear from you, btw!

  5. Loved your point – reminds me of a story shared on WORD-FM many years ago by Dick Hatch. It goes something like this: Justice and Mercy were walking down the street and came upon a “bum” in the ditch, drunk and moaning for help, money, food, etc… Justice says, “You made the decisions that led you here, and you need to feel the consequences of your actions. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it!” (True, but not loving) Then mercy says, “Oh you poor man! Here’s $20, go get some food and a room at the shelter.” (Loving, but enables him to buy more liquor). Then Grace comes along and says, “Oh you poor man, let me help you up. Let’s go get something to eat and get to know each other. Maybe we can help each other.” Grace = justice filled with mercy, and mercy surrounded by the boundaries of justice – (both truth and love, compassion and consequences), and enters into relationship with the man and changes both of their lives. Both the law, without love, and love, without law breeds rebellion and destruction. (P.S. Sometimes if you wait 24 hours, the splinter will loosen because of the bodies natural defenses fighting the infection…but don’t wait more than a day or two, or it may get infected and then it will get really sore to touch!)

  6. Great point! I just had some students in a class of mine ask if they would get “mercy” for missing questions on a test. Perhaps I’ll direct him your way, Mr. Glaser. 🙂

  7. Fantastic piece. Right on point. Thanks for sharing that in a culture where the love and the truth of God sadly are put in opposition to one another.

  8. Morning Josh

    Excellent word Josh.. 

    In my walk I’ve notice this. Part of that pain when
    mercy comes to us is the signal that we have
    already tried to remove the pain & we close up
    saying to ourselves, “I’ve already opened up
    to remove this pain , or submitted to something else & it didn’t work. I’m not
    believing or trusting someone or something
    else can eleviate  it now.”

    We don’t want to expose ourselves naked 
    to the pure naked truth which can relieve the
    pain, dull or sharp..

    Great day to you bro

  9. Thanks for sharing this thought provoking teaching, Josh! I agree that as a Christian it is necessary for mercy and truth to temper each other, in fact, they can be considered reciprocal. Jesus truth leads us to confess that we are sinners and receive mercy. His mercy, dying in our place on the cross, leads us to the truth that Jesus is God. In a simpler application, if we say we care and are truly moved for the homeless, disabled, etc., but don’t do anything to help, we have mercy with no truth. If we hold them in contempt or mock them because we don’t believe they should be depending on the system, we have no mercy or understanding of their situation, we are being truthful to our feelings but not merciful to the people who need mercy.

  10. This is too funny. I didn’t even look at the other comments on this page, but, I volunteer with the homeless and had a similar analogy. I’m sorry my comment is redundant. Jacqui : D

  11. I so appreciate this insight! I wish I could have seen this truth years ago. Some people have been given the gift of teaching, some exhortation, some administration; I have been given the mercy gift. But it has so often tripped me up and I have had to face the fact that “when healing requires greater pain, the consequences are much more substantial where mercy balks.” Even now, when I know that speaking the truth–in love–even with all the gentleness and love I can possibly show–if I know that it will result in pain to the other, I find it so impossible to do! Because causing pain feels so much like the opposite of love and mercy, I haven’t been able to bring myself to speak when speaking is called for. Perhaps it is my reaction to those who spoke the truth to me with what seemed to me a gleeful enjoyment of my pain. I vowed never to hurt someone like that purposely. Even when I accidentally offend, I am so easily tormented by grief. For me the need for mercy in speaking truth is quite clear. But what a huge learning curve to come to the wise knowledge of the need for truth in mercy. To see clearly that not dealing with the problem or wound may ultimately be far worse and possibly fatal–should call forth the courage I need to work gently through the pain to the greater, deeper healing! Thank you!

    1. Hi Linda, as one who also has the mercy gift, I too tend toward holding back on the truth when I believe it will cause pain. Four things are curing me of this over time: 1) When others speak a painful word of truth to me, I’m finding it doesn’t kill me, and I’m experiencing growth in my life from those moments. 2) In walking with people over a long period of time, I’m getting to see first-hand a lack of movement–movement that might have come sooner for them had I been willing to speak truth earlier. And in fact, I’ve found that in relationships where trust is established, when I fail to share a truthful word, it is often more difficult to share it later on. And 3) As I step out in faith and speak the truth, I’m finding that most people are much less phased by my words than I expect them to be. Many are grateful when I just pull the splinter out in one fail swoop rather than skirt around it, which to them can actually feel more shaming than when I treat them as adults whom I love. And lastly, I don’t know about you, but for me there are many situations when, if I don’t speak what’s on my mind, it actually hurts me. I leave the conversation not having brought all that I am to it, disappointed with myself, knowing that it was not love that held me back but fear. In these situations, speaking the truth in love to another also ensures that I don’t leave the conversation with a festering splinter of my own. Bless you, Linda!

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