July 16: Mercy and Truth

Proverbs 3:3-4 says, “Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.”

It’s pretty clear that mercy is a virtue that we have to hang on to and practice constantly.  In fact, we need to wear reminders on a necklace, commit to memory what God says about it, and recite it often so we don’t forget. Otherwise, mercy can run away from us, taking truth with it, and leave us among some very hard companions.

Romans 1:28-31 lists some of the hard companions as those with a “debased mind.”  Very ugly stuff. Look at the company that the unmerciful keep: wickedness, maliciousness, and murder to name a few. And wrapping us the list of nasties are “unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). When we show mercy to one another, we find mercy from God: “favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.” Who wouldn’t want to find favor from God and men?

But bitterness tells us lies. We somehow think that we are punishing the one who wronged us, when we are actually destroying ourselves. Bitterness is unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful. I know people who have let bitterness destroy them, and I’m sure you know a few too. It is (sadly) not that uncommon. Bitterness is never satisfied. Even if the offender has been punished, it is never enough. Even if they went to jail, the bitter person wants more. Even if years go by, bitterness does not forget. It reviews, reviews, reviews. And bitterness embellishes the story, painting itself always in the good light (I am justified in feeling this way) and the offender in a worse and worse light, attributing motives, adding details.

Think about this: the bitter person gives the offender and the offense complete authority and power over his or her entire life. This allows the offense/offender to put its foot on your neck and hold you down, maybe for the rest of your life.

I’ve known people who were wronged and allowed the wrong to define their life and their history. That became their identity. They refuse to let it go. And this is what turns them into trolls. They let the old offense become shackles around their ankles. It becomes their whole story. They tell their story over and over again to anyone who will listen, but it never brings the healing or peace they so desperately want.

Bitterness wants vengeance. But God has declared that vengeance is His territory, not ours (Romans 12:19). Our duty is to forgive; God will take vengeance for us, but only if we have given Him room to do it. When we try to avenge, we are disobeying God and He will judge us for it.

Everyone in the world has been wronged by someone, sometimes terribly. But no one has been wronged like Jesus. He is willing to take all your bitterness, all your unmerciful, unforgiving, and vengeful thoughts to the Cross where He will put them to death and free you. Don’t let bitterness define you. Accept His offer of forgiveness and He will give you the means to extend it to others.


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6 thoughts on “July 16: Mercy and Truth

  1. How do you let it go, show mercy and move on if the other person won’t admit they’ve done wrong or ask for forgiveness? I have a situation like this, with a close family member, and though I strive to give it to the Lord and to have a heart that desires to forgive, it feels like there’s unfinished business and I’m not sure if I should be showing more mercy. But it still doesn’t seem right to show mercy by ignoring the wrong, acting like it didn’t happen. It is a hard and painful situation, and I want to handle it rightly.

  2. Katie,
    When the offender does not seek our forgiveness, it is our business to have our hearts disposed to forgive. In other words, we may not harbor an unforgiving spirit while waiting for the other person to get it right. This just infects our own souls with bitterness. What if the person dies without seeking our forgiveness? We don’t want to live out our lives with an unforgiving spirit. We should do business with our hearts before God so that we have the forgiveness ready to extend just in case we are ever asked to forgive. This is good for our souls.
    At the same time, none of this means that we are never to confront the sin. Forgiveness is not looking the other way or pretending it did not happen. You may need to get some counsel from someone you trust to help you walk through this difficult family situation.
    A great book on this subject is From Forgiven to Forgiving, by Jay Adams. As Adams puts it, forgiveness is a transaction. You may be disposed to forgive, but if the offender does not seek it, he remains in an unforgiven state. In the meantime, you do not have to be tied up in knots by his sin. God will deal with it, even if it isn’t until the last day, and you can rest in knowing He does all things well.

  3. One verse I have found helpful and encouraging in dealing with people who have hurt me and are unrepentant or unwilling to reconcile is romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

    The command to live at peace tells me that mercy and forgiveness are my reponsibility, but the “if it is possible” and “as far as it depends on you” remind me that sometimes there are situations where we will have done our best but the relationship is still not mended and the injury still not confessed. In those circumstances, we have comfort in knowing we dealt with it well before The Lord, even if we didnt always get the relational result we hoped for.

  4. Thank you, Nancy and Bronwyn. It’s so good that we are able to deal with our hearts and be clean before the Lord, regardless of anyone else’s actions. It’s still hard to know how to handle the relationship moving forward, with the person in question acting hurt and upset that contact and intimacy are practically gone. But I have talked to her a few times in real attempts to lovingly confront and achieve reconciliation, and have gotten nowhere. So I suppose it’s not really so hard to know how to handle it (interacting with courtesy and kindness and a heart ready to forgive, but not giving in to pressure or guilt from her or myself to act like we have the close relationship that we used to) – it’s just hard to do it.

  5. Something that really helps me when I’m wrestling with having an attitude of forgiveness toward someone is to think on this: What I did to Christ is a million times worse than what so & so did to me. It helps me to take pause and put things in perspective.

    LOVE Jay Adams book!!

  6. There are lots of variations on this quote (which seems to be attributed to everyone from Nelson Mandella to Anne LaMotte), but I’ve always liked the metaphor: “Bitterness is the poison we drink hoping the other person will die.” There oughta be a bumper sticker or something.

    When it comes to extending a spirit of forgiveness toward unrepentant offenders, it helps me to remember that Christ did not wait to go to the cross until after all of us sinners had finally come around and sought His forgiveness first. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

    Perhaps a good way to check our own heart attitude toward an offender is to pray for them the way Christ Himself did for His own murderers: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those who nailed our Savior to the tree believed they were in the right. They weren’t kneeling at the foot of the cross in sackcloth and ashes when Jesus prayed for their forgiveness. They were in the midst of carrying out the most grievous offense ever committed. And I imagine they were feeling pretty self-righteous and morally justified the whole time. Smug! Vicious! Intolerable!

    And yet, “Father, forgive them.”

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