In so many ways we are not like God. He is eternal, and we are short-lived. God is unchanging, and we are always moving and shifting and being influenced. God is almighty, while we’re so very weak and fragile.
We could go on, pondering God’s perfect goodness and wisdom and righteousness, and how far from this we are.
We are not like him, so we’re reluctant to ever speak of ourselves as being or doing something like God. We would never say this, would we? “I felt a little like God today, when I forgave that rude person. When I upheld justice and truth today, I think that others could see God reflected in me.” It almost sounds blasphemous, because God and we are in entirely different categories, and his ways are so far above our ways.
Yet Scripture teaches that we must become imitators of God. When you watch the way that some children act, you can clearly see their parents. In the same way, consider how we have become children of God our Father, graciously adopted into his household. Throughout our lives, God is shaping us, disciplining us, teaching us, with the result that we begin to resemble him.
This amazing thing also happens when we show mercy. Says Christ in Luke 6:36, “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” If that is what He is like, then that is what you must be like.
In the fifth Beatitude, Jesus speaks about how we should show mercy (Matt 5:7):
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
According to Scripture, mercy is a deliberate act of love shown to someone needy. Mercy is identifying with someone in trouble, coming alongside them, and giving the help that is needed.
Consider how the LORD God is the rich source of mercy. Scripture says that mercy belongs to God, for his mercy reaches to the heavens (Ps 36:5), and his mercy lasts forever (Ps 100:5). God’s mercy is the ongoing kindness of his heart, unwavering in love toward his people and faithfully holding onto us in his grace.
It is striking that one of the statements repeated most often in the Old Testament is that the steadfast mercy of God endures forever. Think of the wondrous refrain of Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For his mercy endures forever.” God didn’t need to save a people who weren’t looking for him, people who often were not grateful for what He gave. Yet God was willing.
We are guilty sinners, wretched, dying, and condemned. And then we hear the gospel in Ephesians 2:4-5,
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.
Here is the ultimate expression of unmerited mercy, the greatest show of compassion to the hopeless: God gives his Son.
In Christ, God identifies with us. He gets into ‘our skin’ to help us. Jesus saw things with our eyes, walked in our shoes, experienced all the temptations that we do. Then He even accepted the terrible punishment that we deserved for sin. Now when we come before God, we get the most amazing and unexpected gift: we find mercy! Each day of our life, every hour, every moment, we live by God’s mercy.
And Lamentations 3:23 says that his kindness in Christ never stops:
His mercies are new every morning.
If this is so—if this is true for your life, just as it’s true for my life—Christ says that this needs to become the tone and the spirit of how we treat other people: “Freely you have received, freely give. You have received mercy. Now show mercy.”
God’s brand of mercy means that we should actually be affected by the sufferings of others and want to relieve their burdens. And this world is full of abundant opportunities to show mercy to people; there is heartache and misery and struggle all around us. In the church community too, there is an immense amount of need. Daily we come into contact with brothers and sisters and neighbours who would benefit from kindness.
At school, there are students who are struggling, boys and girls who are being left out or pushed away, and who would be blessed by mercy. In your congregation, there are people who need mercy: Did you know there are elderly folks who would love a visit, suffering members who crave support, lonely ones who feel forgotten?
In our workplace too, or on our street, we see men and women who are struggling. From their appearance, we might guess that their life is difficult, that they carry a heavy burden, that they could be blessed by someone who knows Christ. God calls us to have compassion and to help them.
Such mercy is not a vague feeling of pity for someone, but mercy takes action. Think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, how that good man showed compassion to the stranger laying at the side of the road—the stranger who was really his enemy—and how he responded to his physical needs in a generous way. And then Jesus asked, “Who was a neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?” “He who showed mercy on him,” the expert replied. And Jesus said, “Go, and do likewise” (Luke 15:36-37).
This has always been what God expects from his people, like in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Such mercy is an outward-looking love, and it is the reverse of our innate self-centeredness.
Mercy requires a willingness to forget ourselves and instead to get involved with someone else’s suffering.
In the challenge of showing mercy, we’ll need to reflect often on the mercy that we ourselves have received. As Micah says, “God does not retain his anger forever, because He delights in mercy” (7:18). It is what God delights in. It’s his true joy to show compassion, to pardon sinners, and to ease burdens.
So it should be for us as imitators of God. We love to show mercy because this is God’s way, and our mercy will honour him. And then God will surely bless us.