The Mercy of God

Dr. Brian Allison

Last night my wife and I had the opportunity to attend a wedding reception being held at the Valhalla Inn. We were sitting at a table with a very delightful family. We warmed up to each other in just a matter of minutes. In the course of our sharing together, this family disclosed to us some of the misery through which they had together persevered. As a sufferer of leukemia, the father was informed that he had only two to six weeks to live. The doctors subjected him to intensive chemotherapy, but after he had suffered two strokes they had to stop that treatment. The mother herself suffered from uterine cancer. Apparently her state is stable right now. She also had lost a baby at birth and, later on in life, their eldest son was killed in a car accident. Indeed, this family has endured much misery.

Misery is the condition of great suffering or distress. Now the complication of misery is this: misery often leads to despair and despair may lead to the desire for death. Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), in his poem, "Two Voices," writes,

A still small voice spake unto me [saying],

"Thou art so full of misery,

were it not better not to be."

Have you ever been in that emotional (-spiritual) state? The tragic story of the experience of Sue Rodrigez is relatively recent to still be in our consciousness. She suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. She requested mercy killing; she sought mercy killing; she eventually secured mercy killing. Her misery was so great that she eventually desired death. The human condition is the story of human misery – persistent unhappiness, bitter disappointment, severe loss, dashed dreams, broken hearts, etc. Now if such is true for you, then you may find the message of Psalm 86 helpful and comforting. In this Psalm, the psalmist begins with a plea for mercy, "Incline Thine ear, O LORD, and answer me; for I am afflicted and needy. Do preserve my soul, for I am a godly man; O Thou my God, save Thy servant who trusts in Thee. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to Thee I cry all day long" (1-3). This plea for mercy sets the tone for the whole Psalm. So the psalmist concludes, "Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it, and be ashamed, because Thou, O LORD, hast helped me and comforted me" (17). Every plea for mercy presupposes the condition of misery. C. H. Spurgeon (1836-1892) once said, "Misery is the master argument for mercy with God."

Mercy is reserved for the helpless

God's mercy is the main, and often the only, recourse to which we may apply when we are in our state of misery, and thus we need to adopt a disposition similar to that of the psalmist – a dependent disposition. We need to come to the Lord in our weakness and cast ourselves upon Him. Rather than having a bulldog mentality which says, "Well, I am going to put down my head and vehemently pump my legs, and barge through the trying situation;" we need a submissive mentality. Rather than having a carnal self-confident attitude which says, "Well I have been able to work myself out of a mess in the past, and this is just another challenge. There are still clever ideas and new schemes that I can employ in order to get over this difficulty;" we need a humble attitude. Do you have the mentality of a bulldog or the attitude of carnal self-confidence? If so, then you will not plead for God's mercy, and thus, most likely, will not receive it. The plea for mercy presupposes a recognition of one's own inability to really handle the trying situation. It means that you will have to admit your weakness, your need. It means that you will have to conclude that you do not have all the answers, nor the adequate resources. It will mean that you will have to admit that you are not as manly as you thought you were, nor as sophisticated as you would deem yourself to be.

Some people exclude themselves from the mercy of God because they will not humble themselves and admit their weakness and helplessness. People's egos are often too big; personal pride often runs very deep. For these people to admit their weakness and helplessness is too humiliating, too degrading. So these proud, self-sufficient people pontificate, "I have been able to weather it in the past; I am sure that I will be able to do so again today or tomorrow. What, me say 'Die;' me throw in the towel; me raise the white flag? What, me grovel?" Yes, if you want God's mercy. You need to be man enough, or woman enough, to recognize that you are weak, that you are in need, regardless of how humiliating and degrading it may be.

I was speaking to a young man last week and he confidently said to me in our conversation, "God helps those who help themselves;" to which I responded, "God helps those who cannot help themselves." In my second year of seminary, I entered into perhaps one of the darkest periods of my life. It was a time of great emotional upheaval and spiritual gloom, which persisted for some time. The internal struggle was fiercely intense. I did not share this struggle with anyone. I felt that I couldn't. I suffered alone. On one occasion, the pain had became so intense that I simply cast myself prostrate on my study floor, and cried out to the Lord for mercy. I came to realize that the Lord allowed that period of darkness to enter my life because He had some spiritual weaning and whittling away to do. In that study I was confronted with my brokenness, and thus realized my absolute dependency on God. The Lord helps those who cannot help themselves.

Mercy is received through prayer

Further, the plea for mercy necessitates the context of prayer. The psalmist petitions, "Make glad the soul of thy servant, for to Thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul...Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; and give heed to the voice of my supplications!" (4,6). Prayer is the demonstrable posture of dependency. Prayer is the visible acknowledgement that we cannot help ourselves, that God is our only recourse, and that we must cast ourselves on Him for mercy. Moreover, as with the psalmist, we should pray consistently and constantly. That spiritual darkness and emotional upheaval into which I entered in my second year of seminary persisted for months, and some aspects of the ordeal persisted for years. At times, I felt that my mind was in torment. I turned to different self-help resources; I read different books; I explored different solutions – seeking for some relief. I listened to many sermons – waiting to hear the voice of God – and day after day, week after week, month after month, I came up empty-handed. I continued to cry to God, saying, "Lord, how long? How long?" Yet through prayer, God finally answered. God has His timing and when His servants have been tested and further refined through the fire, then He responds in His mercy, and He visits His servants with joyful deliverance.

Do you know what it is like to be broken? Or are you are still living on the outer edge of the faith? You will know very little of the full life of God until you have come to the point of being broken; because it is in your brokenness that God is pleased to surprise you with His healing and His felt-presence. God does indeed hear the cry of the afflicted; His ears are attentive to the prayers of the needy. At His appointed time He comes and blows out the testing fires of the furnace and leads His people beside the still waters, and they finally rest in His green pastures. Again, prayer is the context of pleading for the mercy of God.

Praying confidently for mercy

We can be confident that God hears us when we pray, even though the answer is delayed. The psalmist confidently prayed, "For Thou, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon Thee...In the day of my trouble I shall call upon Thee, for Thou wilt answer me" (5,7). God will eventually come and deliver His people because He has pledged Himself to the welfare and care of them. So God Word's encourages us to hang on, to keep praying, to keep persevering because we will eventually get through the darkness and to the other side to His joyous, glorious light. On the other side of our darkness, we will run into the very arms of Jesus, and then we will discover that it was all worthwhile.

Are you in agony of soul now, and possibly suffering alone? Is your mind now tormented with a pain that seems to be beyond the reach and grasp of any possible comfort that you may presently apply? Is your misery tearing you apart, being of such a nature that you feel that you cannot share it with anyone because they just would not understand what you are actually enduring? Be encouraged; you are not alone, even though you may feel alone. God does hear the cry of the afflicted, and He is afflicted with their affliction. Remember that we have a great high priest who sympathizes with our weakness; therefore we can pray confidently. God will 'come through' for you and He will surprise you. But you need to hang on, you need to persevere.

Now you may say, "But I do not deserve God's mercy. I am not worthy of His mercy. I am not worthy of His attention and care. Why would God be interested in me?" In response, I think of the account of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) to whom a mother appealed, asking for the pardon of her son. Napoleon answered her, "Well, this is his second offence and thus he deserves death. Justice demands death." This pleading mother retorted, "Justice demands death, but I plead for mercy." Napoleon replied, "He does not deserve mercy." To which the mother responded, "Sire, it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and I am asking you for mercy." Napoleon capitulated and gave her son back to her. Mercy is never deserved; it is graciously granted. We ask God for mercy, not because of who we are, but because of who He is – the embodiment and expression of love. There is mercy for you, if you want it. We serve a merciful God.

The basis for confident praying for mercy

The basis on which we can plead confidently for God's mercy is the personal possession of a proper picture of God. The psalmist affirms, "There is no one like Thee among the gods, O Lord; nor are there any works like Thine. All nations whom Thou has made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; and they shall glorify Thy name. For Thou art great and doest wondrous deeds; Thou alone art God" (8-10). The psalmist had a proper picture of God and that instilled confidence in him. He had a 'big God.' For the psalmist, absolutely nothing was too challenging or too difficult for his God. How big is your God? In these verses, the psalmist sets forth the incomparableness of God (8); there is no one like Him, absolutely no one. He is in a class all His own. The psalmist sets forth the sovereignty and the majesty of God (9). He created the nations, He created the worlds; all peoples will come and worship before Him. The psalmist sets forth the power and the immensity of God (10). He is great and does miraculous works; and so he concludes that God is unique and unrivaled. When you have a proper picture of God – a big God – you will pray confidently, and hence you will hang on until God 'comes through' for you. Are you hanging on? Now you may have to hang on for years, but He will 'come through.'

Mercy to meet all our needs

So what is your particular misery? Maybe you have a physical misery. Well, there is mercy for you. My mother recently underwent her second knee replacement surgery. She apparently has a low tolerance for pain. She experienced a real ordeal in rehabilitation trying to endure the pain. With her therapy on her first knee replacement, and with the beginning therapy on her second knee replacement, the medical team, for some reason, would not give her any strong pain medication in order to dull the pain so that she could comfortably endure the therapy. She found that experience very trying and taxing. This past week another doctor came on the scene and prescribed a strong pain medication in order to dull the pain a bit. She felt relief, and gain courage to persevere through the therapy. My mother inquired, "Well, why couldn't they have done this before?" Humanly speaking – this particular doctor wasn't around. Divinely speaking – it wasn't God's appointed time.

Maybe your misery is emotional. Well there is mercy for you. I referred above to a family which has endured much misery. Now what encouraged my heart in hearing their story was the testimony of the mother who said that God had seen her through the ordeal, that He had strengthened her, that He had helped her. Losing one's children is undeniably painful, yet this mother experienced the comfort of God.

Maybe your misery is spiritual. Well, there is mercy for you. This past year I taught a Christian student who is from South Africa. When he came to Toronto, he personally embraced "a theology of suspicion." He questioned many aspects of the Christian faith. He wrestled with doubt. He couldn't even read his Bible. He had difficulty praying. God brought him through some trying experiences this past year. To my delight, I found a note in my box from him at the end of the Spring semester. This young man shared a testimony with me that God had worked in his heart, and now he is able to read his Bible. That's good news! God is a God of mercy. What is your particular misery – physical, emotional, spiritual? My friend, there is mercy at the fount for you. Come and drink. As the psalmist says, "In the day of my trouble, I shall call upon Thee, for Thou wilt answer me" (7). Thank God for His mercy!