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The Role of God's Mercy in The Bible

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Throughout the bible mercy is displayed by God in numerous situations, even though we are not deserving of it. He took our burdens so that we could be free. Mercy is one of the central themes in the Bible and helps us to better connect with God.

It was not the first time one of God’s prophets had disobeyed the ordered the Lord had set before him. God told Jonah to go and deliver a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh who had become sinful. When Jonah received this mission he did the opposite of what God had directed him to do; he hopped onto a ship which was sailing the opposite direction of Nineveh towards a town called Tarshish. Trips of that distance would not return for at least 3 years. Which shows that Jonah had no intention of returning anytime soon. Seeing this, the Lord sent up great storms that caused considerable fear in the hearts of the sailors. Jonah reluctantly stepped forward and told the seamen what he had done and that God was bringing judgment upon him. At hearing this the sailors threw Jonah into the sea where he was swallowed by an enormous fish. This is described in the Old Testament: “And the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish for three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

Interestingly, the text says ‘the Lord provided’ a great fish to swallow Jonah. The word ‘provided’ translates into the KJV version as ‘prepared.’ This goes to illustrate that God created this special fish for a specific plan (Smith 214). Through this whole time Jonah is aware of his disobedience, but he still considers himself loyal to the Lord because he has not worshiped false gods like the Ninevites have.

After spending 3 days in the belly of the whale, ‘the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land’ (Jonah 2:10). In a sense, Jonah was back to where he began. Except he seemed to be a totally different person. Many lessons learned and having a renewed mindset he began his journey to the city of Nineveh where he was going to proclaim God’s message to the Ninevites. Jonah made a grand entrance into Nineveh, which was probably quite dramatic. His clothing and lifestyle was no doubt different than what the Ninevites wore, which practically begged for attention. Smith says the situation probably looked like “ a needle in a haystack” (Smith 261). The message that Jonah preached was one of impending judgment, warning them of their downfalls, telling them they should repent and ask God to show mercy upon them that He might spare them (Walton 779). The Nivevites believed God. They fasted to the Lord, put upon a sackcloth, offered daily sacrifices of animals and even organs as omens to the Lord that he may show mercy (Walton 780). Jonah had preached repentance to the people of Nineveh, and because the Ninevites had listened and changed their ways, God displayed mercy upon them. Jonah was angry that the God had shown appeasement to these once evil people (Walton 780). Jonah sat down outside the city, under the comfort of a plant, hoping that God would still destroy them, but that was not the case. Jonah, who was clearly angry with God for saving the people of Nieveh cried out to God, saying: “I knew you were a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, relenting from evil” (Jonah 4:2). This verse shows God’s Compassionate nature and the attributes of the Lord to those that are undeserving of his grace and mercy (Smith 277-278). The story of Jonah helps to highlight that our God is a merciful God to everyone, not just those who already know him and have a personal relationship with Him.

Another example of God’s mercy is in Acts. At this point in time, Jesus Christ had just left and told his disciples to go and spread His word among the nations. There were many heavy persecutions of Christians that were lead by a Pharisee named Saul. Saul believed he was serving God by persecuting these Christians and destroying the church. It says throughout the beginning of Acts that Saul had an extreme hatred for the believers, he would breathe threats and murder against its members. Which displays his highly hostile attitude and efforts to imprison the believers (Bock 354). It was clear his purpose had not changed when he was on his way to Damascus. His goal on this journey was to figure out every way that he could imprison and persecute any man, woman or child who claimed to be a follower of Christ. While walking on the long and burdensome road to Damascus, a bright light appeared from the heavens. This light from the heavens indicates the Shekinah, which is God’s presence or glory (Keener 346). Saul fell to the ground, terrified, and heard a voice saying ‘Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:4). Saul, who was still terrified, asked who had questioned him. The Voice replied telling Saul he was Jesus. In persecuting God’s followers, Saul is persecuting Jesus. The voice told Saul he must go to the city and he will be directed from there. As the light began to dwindle, he could not see anything, only hearing the sounds around him. God sometimes caused individuals to be blind in order to stop them from causing evil (Keener 346). After spending several days with the disciples, Saul regained his sight, both physically and spiritually. It says in the book of Acts that he became a new man, preaching in synagogues about Christianity and that Jesus is the Son of God. The people who heard of this were baffled by the sudden change within Saul and asked ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ (Acts 9:21). The change that occurred within Saul was night and day, his eyes were opened to the spiritual misconception he had interpreted. The man who was once the head prosecutor of believers and created havoc is now preaching the word of Christ in the synagogues to the very believers he was trying to eliminate. Saul was a completely changed man thanks to the works of the Lord. The narrator chooses to change Saul’s name to Paul’s to show that he has shifted his lifestyle, and changed his life for the better. The story of Paul shows God’s mercy in an amazing way. Paul, who was one of the most wicked individuals at the time finds mercy in the eyes of the lord. God could have struck Saul down in an instant but he chose to be patient and have mercy towards him, which allowed him to find Christ and become arguably one of the most influential disciples ever. God shows us through this story that He will never withdraw his love and mercy towards us that He has shown, and promised, in Jesus Christ.

Jesus clearly presents mercy by showing compassion and kindness to a sinful woman who had committed an act of adultery. Jesus went to the temple near Mount Olives, where a dispute was happening between a woman who had committed adultery numerous times. The pharisees brought forth the women and saying to Jesus that this woman was caught in the act of adultery. With how the Greeks constructed sentences at that time, it makes it clear that these Pharisees are making a legal claim. Meaning they have the legal evidence to convict this woman (Burge 242). With an audience beginning to grow rapidly, the Pharisees insisted upon the various rules and regulations that should be upheld and followed due to the Law of Moses. The Scriptures commanded the execution not only of the adulteress but also of the adulterer (Keener 272). They asked Jesus what His opinion was and what they should do with her, obviously implementing that they felt she should be put to death by public stoning. Jesus was writing something in the sand. It is important to note this because the Pharisees often wrote their sentences before reading them aloud. Some believe that Jesus may have been writing an acquittal in the sand. Or He quite possibly could have been writing down the names of the men within the meeting that had committed this same act of sin, although the text does not specify. When he finished he slowly rose from the ground, looking calmly upon them saying ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Jesus’ response to these critics is to tell them that they fall short of the very law they are trying to uphold. He might even be suggesting that these very men condemning this women to death were themselves guilty of the same sin. Jesus then walks to the women and asks her if she has been condemned by these people. She says “No one, sir,” Jesus responded. “Then neither do I condemn you, Go now and leave your life of sin.’ Jesus’ final words “Then neither do I condemn you” does not imply that this woman was innocent since he warns her to leave behind her life of sin and start anew (Burge 243). Furthermore, it is also important to note that Jesus, the Son of God, was the only sinless person in this story and although this woman did break the law and He could have very well condemned her to death, He showed her mercy and displayed His sovereignty to forgive sin and took on her sins that were forgiven because He died on the cross for our sins.

God’s mercy has been highlighted throughout many stories of the bible including Jonah and the whale, Saul’s transformation, and the woman caught in the act of adultery. These stories illustrate how much God loves us. It is through this love that He takes our sin and wrongdoing and carries our burden for dying for us on the cross. Seeing God show mercy helps Christians to better connect with God.   

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