Jonah B: A Gracious and Merciful God - Jonah 4:2b

To understand the book of Jonah, we need to understand mercy. The whole Bible tells of the mercy of God, but that mercy is most fully displayed when God saw our miserable and wretched state as sinners far from God and sent His Son to bear the punishment for our sins, satisfying the demands of justice on our behalf, and rising from the dead to reconcile us to God. Eph. 2:4-7 says that this salvation that God accomplished in Christ comes to us as a free gift of mercy.

With this touchstone in place, let’s explore the theme of mercy in the Bible, starting with this definition: mercy is love’s response to misery. Showing mercy involves a disposition of favor that leads to actions that bring relief to those who are suffering.

Such mercy is a characteristic attribute of God. Jonah’s quotation of Exodus 34 says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This description of God also appears in the Psalms, Nehemiah, and Joel, making it one of God’s favorite self-descriptions.

All mercy is shown in response to misery, but not all misery is the direct result of sin. Zech. 7:9-10 illustrates the latter, while in Psalm 51:1-2 David asks for mercy in light of his sin. God has mercy not just for sufferers, but also for sinners. When the misery that provokes mercy is the result of sin, that mercy is fully realized through repentance and atonement. Without repentance and atonement, mercy extended to sinners would be merciless towards their victims.

Mercy is not opposed to justice. Micah 6:8 puts justice and mercy right next to each other as friends; we can’t pick one or the other. All the same, James 2:13 tells us that mercy triumphs over judgment. Mercy is something greater than justice, but it is never less than justice. Related to this, mercy is not the removal of consequences. It may mitigate or remove some consequences, but showing mercy is not the same thing as removing all ramifications of sin. Yet even in the consequences that remain, mercy turns them into disciplinary blessings, however painful they might be.

Mercy is not free. It may be freely given, but it costs a great deal. Mercy involves bearing the suffering or the cost of suffering for another. Someone always pays for mercy. It is the peculiar glory of God that He Himself is the one who is wronged by sin more than anyone, and yet He willingly takes it on Himself in the person of His Son to absorb the high cost of mercy.

Mercy is not always appropriate. “Always show mercy” is not God’s policy and shouldn’t be ours. In Deut. 7:2, God forbids Israel from showing mercy to the Canaanites, because such mercy would have been destructive to His people. At times, attempts to show mercy can enact injustice, and result in harm. A God who waits to punish the wicked and allows time for their repentance is merciful, but a God who never punishes the wicked is not “super-merciful”, but rather wicked and unjust.

Mercy is not irrevocable. This is a startling truth, but one that is made very clear in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matt. 18:21-35. When it becomes apparent that mercy is being abused, it is entirely appropriate for mercy to be withdrawn. As James 2:13 says, “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” God is generous with His mercy, but He withdraws it from those who use mercy to enable sin.

Mercy is guaranteed to those who hold fast in faith to Jesus (Heb. 4:14-16). God does take away mercy from the merciless, but God will never remove His mercy from anyone who trusts in Christ. The fullness of His saving mercy will transform you, so that you do not take His mercy for granted and use it for further sin. When God gives you mercy in Christ, that mercy not only relieves your misery, it changes you into the image of God, so that you become merciful like Jesus.

Because God’s mercy is transformative, receiving God’s mercy by faith will make you merciful, as Luke 6:36 says: “Be merciful, for your heavenly Father is merciful.” The proper way to respond to God’s mercy is with overflowing gratitude that gladly shows mercy to others. We show our gratitude to God through praise and thanks, and we show mercy to others when we forgive them and when we give of our resources to minister to their misery.

Rather than resenting His mercy like Jonah, those who have received mercy in Christ ought to sing of the mercies of the Lord forever, so that all nations might glorify God for His mercy.

Posted on Thursday, March 28, 2019 by CJ Bowen