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Safe Place with Ruth Graham

Mercy. It’s a word we all know and use. But what does it mean?

I am to speak on that subject in February so I have been thinking a lot about it.

Perhaps the most-often used definition is that it means compassion. Compassion is not pity. Compassion is a lot stronger than pity – compassion has muscle and action. You can sit in a chair and have pity for someone but to have compassion means you get up from your chair and do something to help.

So mercy has to do with action toward another that is kind when you have it in your power not to. For instance, a criminal might appear before a judge who was kind but not merciful. The guilty verdict would be read and the sentence given. The judge would not yell, or bang his gavel or demean the criminal. He may use a soft tone of voice when he sentences him to 30 years in prison. He was not particularly merciful. He was doing his job.

On the other hand a criminal comes to stand before a merciful judge. The guilty verdict is read, the sentence give. But the merciful judge grants the criminal a merciful sentence by having the handcuffs unlocked and the criminal is set free through no merit of his own. It was the judge’s own mercy that set him free.

Obviously, that is an oversimplified example but you get my point! (I hope!)

Where does forgiveness come into play with mercy? Perhaps I would say that justice comes first – one has to speak the truth. The forgiveness comes in to release the person from the debt. Then mercy can be granted or not. But a critical step in mercy is repentance.

When we come to God we repent of our sin. We turn from it. We agree with God that we are flawed sinners and have no merit on our own and ask Him to forgive us. He shows His mercy in forgiving us and He exchanges our good works, which are really “filthy rags”, for Christ’s righteousness which is perfectly holy. “The great exchange”, as I call it.

I was thinking of mercy this week after Manning’s sentence was commuted by former President Obama. Was Mr. Obama being merciful? You know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. Mercy requires repentance and justice. If repentance has not been shown and justice has not been established then mercy is watered down and made weak.

Repentance takes time for verification. Not for God – He knows our hearts. But in a human interaction, we need to be able to see the fruit of repentance to manifest itself. Is the life changed and different? Or is it an act?

There was a certain justice in Manning’s sentence – 35 years in prison for passing classified governmental documents to Wikileaks. To some it was too lenient to others, it was too harsh. I guess I would argue that to break the nation’s confidence placed in him as an officer and leak sensitive, classified documents is a VERY serious thing. Manning served 6 years of the sentence.

Mr. Obama has not explained his decision so we can only guess and conjecture.

I have no guess. I cannot imagine the former President’s rationale for doing so over the advice of his military advisors and his Secretary of Defense. Did he do it just because he could? Did he do it as a favor for a donor? Did he do it out of the goodness of his heart? Did he do it to spite someone? I just don’t know. Maybe he heard evidence of deep, life-changing repentance. I don’t know.

Manning will live the rest of his life knowing he sold his country, his unit, his integrity to the enemy. He may be ostracized by some of his countrymen or heralded by others. Or perhaps his conscience is so seared, he doesn’t care.

The court decided justice was 35 years in prison. It would be nice to see repentance. As a nation and individuals we can forgive him for his deed and mercy is part of that forgiveness. But I am not sure justice has yet been served.

I am still puzzling over this – I do not believe this commutation was merciful. What do you think?

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