For 10 years I was a magistrate sitting on the Teesside Bench. One day a defendant asked through his solicitor that we deal with his case as speedily as possible as while he was waiting for his case to be called, his wife had given birth in the court building corridor. He, cheekily and pointedly, suggested that they intended to name their baby girl Mercy. Unfortunately as a consequence of the seriousness of the offences and the defendant’s criminal record we had no choice but to send him to prison. I might have suggested that if his wife had given birth to twins they could have called them Mercy and Justice.
Mercy and Justice are twinned eternal principles. Justice requires that, because he is Holy and perfect no unclean thing be permitted to dwell with God. None of us are perfect, we all commit sin and each time we commit sin that is a violation of eternal law and there are consequences. Those consequences include the fact that we become unclean and unable to dwell with God.
We do not have the power to satisfy the demands of justice for a broken eternal law ourselves. However, as well as being a just God, our God is also a merciful God. He prepared what Alma described in Alma 42:15 as a plan of mercy that would appease the demands of Justice, through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Because of this selfless act, the Father can mercifully withhold punishment from us and welcome us into His presence.
Sometimes we think of Heavenly Father as demanding justice and Jesus being the proponent of mercy. However, God is a merciful God and it was his plan that there would be a means of redemption from justice. When the plan was presented the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7)
The plan required the atonement of Jesus Christ to release us from an otherwise impossible predicament. It makes it possible for God to “be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).
“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Ne. 9:6, 8–10).
President Stephen L Richards said: “The Savior himself declared that he came to fulfill the law, not to do away with it, but with the law he brought the principle of mercy to temper its enforcement, and to bring hope and encouragement to [the] offenders for forgiveness through [mercy and] repentance.”
To receive the Lord’s forgiveness, we must sincerely repent of our sins. As the prophet Alma taught, “Justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved” (Alma 42:24; see also verses 22–23, 25).
The LDS Topical Guide defines mercy as: the compassionate treatment of a person greater than what is deserved, and it is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
This definition tells us that in the context of the Gospel, mercy has 3 elements:
- It is borne out of compassion
- We don’t deserve it
- It is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ
The Hebrew word for mercy is actually a plural word, so perhaps technically we should speak of mercies rather than of mercy.
Here are some examples of mercy or mercies:
- Our Heavenly Father shows mercy when He forgives us of our sins and helps us return to dwell in His presence.
- We are recipients of divine mercy when Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers
- we receive mercies when we receive guidance from the Holy Ghost
- we are shown mercy when we are healed from sickness through priesthood power.
- Although D&C 130 tells us that all blessings come as results of our obedience, we could never receive them through our efforts alone. They are merciful gifts from a loving and compassionate Father.
Elder Bednar defined the tender mercies of the Lord as “the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Further, he taught that “the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.”
In the book of Luke in the New Testament there are a number of parables that are sometimes known as the parables of mercy’. I am going to talk briefly about 3 of them – the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son.
The Good Samaritan, a story about mercy to a stranger Luke 10:25-37.
Just before the story of the Good Samaritan, a religious leader asks Jesus to tell him what it means to love one’s neighbour. So Jesus tells this famous parable which teaches us who our neighbour is. But it is deeper than that. John Welch says:
‘In a nutshell the parable of the good Samaritan teaches of the plan of salvation, the Savior’s atoning love, and our journey toward inheriting eternal life. It can be read as a story not only about a man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, but also about all who come down from the presence of God to live on earth.’
So, it is also a parable or allegory about our journey through life and about the Saviour’s rescuing and atoning love. It also teaches us about the true nature of love and mercy.
The Samaritan does four things:
1) he sees the victim
2) draws close to him
3) allows his heart to be moved with compassion, and
4) he acts.
Interestingly, John Welch says about the word compassion used in the text:
The Greek word says that the Samaritan’s bowels were moved with deep, inner sympathy. This word is used in the New Testament only when authors wish to describe God’s divine emotions of mercy.
So we have our 3 elements of mercy here:
- The Samaritan shows compassion to the traveller
- The traveller did nothing to earn or deserve the compassion – he was a stranger to the Samaritan
- The atonement of Jesus Christ is referenced in a number of ways.
The Lost Sheep Luke 15:1-7 – a story about mercy and ministering
This sounds risky. Would a shepherd really leave the rest of the flock? If a risk assessment was carried out it would say stay with the 99. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, 99 sheep in the fold are worth more than one in the wilderness. But this is the Good Shepherd who is full of mercy and compassion.
Notice that the shepherd is anxious to recover the lost sheep .When he realises that there is one of his flock missing he takes immediate action to restore this sheep to its proper place in the fold.
He leaves the ninety-nine immediately to go after the one who is lost. This sheep may have wandered away from the shepherd, but it was still precious to Him
- Notice the shepherd doesn’t give up until the sheep is found — He goes after the sheep “until he finds it”.
- Notice the shepherd isn’t angry at the sheep — He is joyful when he finds his sheep.
Notice the shepherd carries the all the weight — The sheep is carried “on his shoulders”.
The shepherd did not stop until his mission had been completed and the sheep had been found! Jesus did not stop on His quest until He was able to cry, ‘It is finished’.
This shepherd was able to rejoice with his friends and neighbours because his lost sheep was found. He was overjoyed with the rescue of this one, lost sheep. Jesus makes it clear that heaven gets excited about the salvation of just ONE lost soul.
God’s mercy and concern for the lost soul is the main point of the parable.
THE PRODIGAL SON – Luke 15: 11-32 – a parable about being merciful like the father
It is the story of a father who had two sons. He lost them both, one in a foreign country, the other behind a barricade of self-righteousness. As some have suggested, the story could also be called the parable of the father’s love, or the parable of the faithful father. Certainly the parable symbolizes God’s constant concern for his children. Since he is above all a God of love, he naturally welcomes the truly penitent.
The Pharisees would strongly object to the son’s squandering his wealth and wild living. The distant country was probably outside of Jewish territory, so the son was living with Gentiles. In addition, he was feeding pigs, animals which Jews were forbidden to eat and which no self-respecting Jew would ever own as livestock. Finally, the son sank so low that he even ate the ‘pigs’ food himself! The Pharisees would have expected the father to reject his son.
Instead the parable shows us that God has extraordinary love and mercy for each of us. He longs to be with us and is joyful when we are close to him.
Notice that the father also pursues the older son and extends his mercy to him despite his attitude.
Let’s turn back to the parable of the Good Samaritan:
Luke 10:36-37 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
37 And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Ultimately, it is mercy that makes the neighbor in the parable recognizable. It is mercy, or being moved with compassion, that reveals the neighbor.
“Each of us, in the journey through mortality, will travel his own Jericho Road. What will be your experience? What will be mine? Will I fail to notice him who has fallen among thieves and requires my help? Will you? Will I be one who sees the injured and hears his plea, yet crosses to the other side? Will you? Or will I be one who sees, who hears, who pauses, and who helps? Will you?
“Jesus provided our watchword, ‘Go, and do thou likewise.’ When we obey that declaration, there opens to our view a vista of joy seldom equaled and never surpassed.
“Now the Jericho Road may not be clearly marked. Neither may the injured cry out, that we may hear. But when we walk in the steps of that good Samaritan, we walk the pathway that leads to perfection.” (Thomas S Monson, Be Your Best Self [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 154.)
What should we do?
We can follow our Heavenly Father’s example of mercy in our relationships with others. We can seek ways to be compassionate, respectful, forgiving, gentle, and patient, even when we are aware of others’ shortcomings.
As we do so, our example will lead others to be more merciful, and we will have greater claim on the mercy of God.