You and I live in a time when we desperately need to know the difference between true and false mercy.
I remember when one of my kids was little and 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, a troubled marriage, a gender identity conflict, sexual temptations or addictions, unwanted same-sex attractions, current problems stemming from past abuse or neglect.
In our anguish, we want mercy to rush in with comfort, kisses, permission, anything, just to relieve pain. And oh how we need more mercy on the earth! But it’s not a cheap mercy we need. No mercy knock-off will do. We need the real thing, true mercy.
Here’s how we can tell the difference between a knock-off version of mercy and the real thing:
False mercy is concerned with relieving a person’s pain. True mercy is concerned with resolving the source of the pain.
Whether removing a splinter or restoring a marriage, true mercy understands that things like healing, wholeness, and love are rarely achieved in life without pain along the way. False mercy can do nothing but take aim at the pain that is screaming loudest in the moment. And false mercy will forsake reason, integrity, commitments, health, family, and even God if these get in the way. False mercy cares nothing about you becoming a person of integrity, steadfastness, character, maturity, wisdom, fullness, joy, and freedom. In this way, false mercy ends up cooperating with the source of the original pain. It makes an allegiance with the true problem.
True mercy works differently. Because it is truly merciful, true mercy is always about helping you become fully alive, fully the man or woman God created you to be. True mercy doesn’t want you to suffer, but if healing requires pain, then true mercy won’t avoid it. It will walk you through it.
- Even though it can be excruciatingly scary and painful for a husband to disclose the truth about his infidelity and for his wife to hear, mercy knows if your marriage is going to be saved, the truth has to come to light.
- Even though it can be hard to maintain chastity, mercy knows that sexual abstinence in singleness and sexual faithfulness in marriage is the path to relational wholeness and becoming people who love.
- Even though you feel uncomfortable in your biological sex, mercy knows your sexual biology is not just cosmetic, but an immutable part of who you are even to the level of your DNA. And so mercy desires to walk with you along the difficult road of learning to accept yourself by making peace with your body.
- Even though you have “fallen out of love,” mercy knows that newlywed love is meant to give way over time to a deeper, stronger love that is forged over years.
- Even though you can’t fall asleep because you are tossing and turning with temptation to lust and masturbate as you have for years, mercy knows that if you are ever to be free of sexual addiction, your body will go through times of withdrawal.
Where false mercy desires to ease pain and bring comfort, true mercy’s focus is exposing and dealing with the source of the problem. In this way, true mercy is always truthful. To be truly merciful, mercy needs truth. And true mercy knows it.
Now, there is another side to this. Just as true mercy requires embracing the whole truth, likewise true truth requires embracing authentic mercy. It does no good to stand at a distance and tell those who suffer that they have to stay in pain. True mercy makes room at the table.
- True mercy will encourage a single man not to have sex with his girlfriend, but it will also take his late night call when he confesses he crossed that line again.
- True mercy will tell a transgender teen the truth about gender reassignment surgery, but it will also welcome her and make her feel at home when she shows up for church dressed like a guy.
- True mercy won’t equivocate that God’s design for marriage is one man and one woman, but it will also provide family for those who do not have one of their own.
- True mercy won’t equivocate that marriage is for life, but it will also provide divorce care for those whose marriages have fallen apart.
- True mercy holds that sex is to be reserved for marriage, but it will also provide pregnancy care and support for young single mothers.
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. Mercy makes a way for truth to bear fruit.
Whether receiving mercy for yourself or letting it arise in you for the good of another, you need true mercy, not false mercy.
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?