Traveling Mercies

“…because when people have seen you at their worst, you don’t have to put on the mask as much.” ~Anne Lamott, in Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on my other blog titled, Unshakable Hope.” The title comes from a brand new book with the same title by Max Lucado, best-selling Christian author and senior pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. A couple of excerpts from Chapters 11 and 12 in the book are included in that post, which you can read at this link.

In the first chapter of the book, he states:

Could you use some unshakable hope?

If so, you’re not alone. We live in a day of despair. The suicide rate in America has increased 24 percent since 1999. Twenty-four percent! If a disease saw such a spike, we would deem it an epidemic. How do we explain the increase? We’ve never been more educated. We have tools of technology our parents could not have dreamed of. We are saturated with entertainment and recreation. Yet more people than ever are orchestrating their own deaths. How could this be?

Among the answers must be this: people are dying for lack of hope. Secularism sucks the hope out of society. It reduces the world to a few decades between birth and hearse. Many people believe this world is as good as it gets, and let’s face it. It’s not that good. (Quote source: Unshakable Hope, page 10.)

“Wait, you’re not going to leave us there, right?” No, I’m not, but you’ll have to get the book to find out what Max has written about the promises of God that do come against this age of despair.

Since I lost my job almost a decade ago (well, in another seven months it will be a decade), I’ve run into a side of life in America I didn’t think about all that much except for when it was reported in news stories. And the advances in technology over the past decade have exponentially spread it around the globe, too. What we might have thought was a minority of people (I’m not referring to racial minorities) has exponentially grown over these past ten years, especially with the raise of the “Nones (the religiously unaffiliated). It has become apparent, as Max stated above, that many of us living today have reduced the world to a few decades between birth and death, and if this life is all we get, empathy for others tends to go down the tube as we are seeking to get everything we can get out of life. While there has always been a philosophy of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours approach to life, now the scratching has become more knife-like.

I have no idea what it’s like to live as if this life is all there is and there is nothing beyond the grave. Being a Christian since I was a very young girl, my faith in God has been my anchor throughout my life, and He has seen me through some pretty unbelievable stuff especially over this past decade that I could never have navigated through on my own. I could list a few of the miracles He’s given me, but I’d rather just be incredibly thankful for them. In some corners of Christianity in America today we’ve been lead to believe that Christianity is some kind of “magic carpet ride” of success and/or prosperity in life. Persecuted Christians around the world today would tend to greatly differ with our brand of Christianity, and a reading of Hebrews 11 should clear up that fallacy pretty quickly, too. Most people look at “outward appearances” and judge accordingly (as in, well, gee, he or she doesn’t look, act, or dress like a Christian as “Christian” is defined by our culture). Fortunately, God doesn’t judge by outward appearances; He looks at the heart (see I Samuel 16:7). Outward appearances are often deceiving.

As our society becomes more secular, it makes for some rather interesting interactions with those who want something we might have to increase their own standing and/or wealth, or to get their own way, etc. It gives rise to a belief that there are no consequences for our actions in life or even after death. In a world like this there should be no surprise that the suicide rate has increase 24 percent since 1999 given that fact that God is too often viewed as a sort of “killjoy” to life, or He is blamed for the bad stuff that happens to us, or that we have reduced Him to a religious symbol of sorts or allotted Him one hour of our lives on Sunday morning, or, worse yet, made Him into a nonentity altogether. In a world where God doesn’t matter or exist to a growing majority of people, who cares how we treat each other in this life if this life is all that we get and there are no consequences for our actions.

God have mercy on us all, even those who don’t believe in Him.

The title of this particular blog post, “Traveling Mercies,” is not just about a Christian definition of that phrase that started in the 19th Century. According to the Dictionary of Christianese,” it is defined as follows:

The term arose in the late 19th century and was used at first almost exclusively of church workers who were on a long journey for the purpose of ministry work (see sense 1), but by the mid-20th century the term was being used in a general way of any Christians who were on a journey for any reason (see sense 2). Sense 1: God’s blessings and protection on missionaries, preachers, and other church workers who are traveling to or from a place of ministry, usually at some distance; and Sense 2: God’s blessings and protection on any people who are traveling. (Quote source here.)

The traveling mercies I am referring to are the mercies we receive from God throughout our lives as we journey through life (and yes, those mercies are extended to those who don’t believe in God), and they are not specific to any subset of people (as in only to Christians). God, in His great mercy, is no respecter of persons (e.g., God shows no partiality–see Acts 10:34-43). God pours out His mercy even on those who don’t believe in Him. As 2 Peter 3:9 makes very clear, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

In answer to the question, What does it mean that God is merciful?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

God being merciful basically means that, when we deserve punishment, He doesn’t punish us, and in fact blesses us instead. Mercy is the withholding of a just condemnation. Throughout the Bible, God gives many illustrations of His mercy. God fully demonstrates His mercy in Jesus Christ.

God was merciful to the wayward Solomon in 1 Kings 11:13. God was merciful to Israel in captivity (Psalm 106:45Nehemiah 9:31). David illustrated God’s mercy when he showed kindness to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9:7). God’s mercy was illustrated every year on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered the Holiest Place and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice before the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14).

Another illustration of God’s mercy is found in Matthew 18:23–27. In this parable, Jesus describes a rich ruler who was owed a large sum of money. The ruler ordered that money be collected, but then the debtor came and begged for mercy. The ruler, in turn, graciously forgives the debt. Here’s the point: we owed God a debt we could never repay, and He has freely forgiven us that debt in Christ! Interestingly, after the ruler in the parable forgives the debt, the person who owed the money refuses to forgive someone else. The ruler then judges that ungrateful person. God requires us to be merciful and forgiving to others here on earth (see Matthew 6:15). We who have been forgiven so much have no right to withhold forgiveness from others.

Mercy is coupled with other attributes of God in Psalm 86:15, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (ESV). God’s mercy is rooted in His love for us. He is merciful, in large part, because He is love (1 John 4:8). As sinners, we deserve punishment (Romans 3:23). God’s righteousness requires punishment for sin—He wouldn’t be holy otherwise. Since God does love us and is merciful, He sent His Son (John 3:16). The fullness of His mercy is seen in Matthew 27. Jesus is brutally beaten and murdered on our behalf; Jesus received our just condemnation, and we received God’s mercy.

Because of His love for us, God wants us to be with Him. His mercy is required for that to take place; there is an inseparable connection between God’s love and mercy. Jesus laid down His life and became the sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 53:7John 1:29) so that God’s mercy could be extended to us. Instead of punishing us for our sin, God allowed His Son to take the condemnation in our place. That is the ultimate act of God’s mercy (see Ephesians 2:4–5). To our eternal benefit, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13b). (Quote source here.)

Even as our society becomes more and more secular, we ought to be incredibly grateful that God’s mercies endure forever (see Psalm 136). As noted by GotQuestions.org regarding the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:

The prophet Jeremiah wrote Lamentations [in the Old Testament] in a time of grief and national mourning, after the once great city of Jerusalem fell to Babylon, circa 586 BC. The book describes great anguish—and great hope—in poetic form. The main theme of the book is God’s judgment on Judah’s sin as well as His compassion for His people. Lamentations contains “laments” or “loud cries” for Jerusalem and many expressions of anguish and pain, but in chapter 3, right in the middle of the book, there is a beautiful passage of confidence and hope.

Jeremiah’s tone changes from despair to hope in Lamentations 3:21: “Yet this I call to mind / and therefore I have hope.” From this and ensuing verses, we know that, even in the darkest times, God is faithful and will not cast off His people forever. Every day, every morning, God shows His mercy and compassion.

Taking a closer look at Lamentations 3:22–23, we notice a couple important themes. First, the Lord’s “great love” (“steadfast love” in some translations) abides even in times of trouble and divine judgment. God never stopped loving Israel, despite His discipline of them. The Hebrew word translated “great love” is used about 250 times in the Old Testament; it refers to love, of course, but it also encompasses elements of grace, mercy, goodness, forgiveness, compassion, and faithfulness. It is because of God’s “great love” for His people that spared them from being utterly wiped out by Babylon. As we know from history, God later restored His people to their land and blessed them again.

A second theme is God’s unfailing compassion or mercyMercy in the Bible is God’s withholding of a just punishment. The particular Hebrew word used in Lamentations 3:22 has to do with tender love, great and tender mercy, or pity. The same word is used in Isaiah 63:7 and translated “compassion”: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us—yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.” The Lord has pity on His suffering children; in fact, His mercies are new every morning.

Jeremiah’s statement that God’s mercies are “new every morning” is related to the statement that follows: “Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23). God is unchanging, and His mercies toward Israel were unfaltering. His covenant with Abraham’s descendants would be kept (see Jeremiah 31:35–37). This was the bright ray of hope that shone through the smoke of Jerusalem’s ruins.

The dawning of every new day could be seen as a symbol of God’s light breaking through the darkness and His mercy overcoming our troubles. Every morning demonstrates God’s grace, a new beginning in which gloom must flee. We need look no further than the breath in our lungs, the sun that shines upon us, or the rain that falls to nourish the soil. The mercies of God continue to come to us via a multitude of manifestations.

There is no expiration date on God’s mercy toward us. His mercies are new every morning in that they are perpetual and always available to those in need. We have our ups and downs, and “even youths grow tired and weary” (Isaiah 40:30), but God is faithful through it all. With the dawn of each day comes a new batch of compassion made freshly available to us. God’s compassion is poured out from an infinite store; His mercies will never run out. Some mornings we get up on the wrong side of the bed, but even there we find God’s mercies awaiting us. (Quote source here.)

As Lamentations 3:22-23 states, Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 107:1 (they are found in many other verses, too):–Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!

For His mercy . . .

Endures . . .

Forever . . . .

YouTube Video: “His Mercy Endureth Forever” by Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Potter’s House Mass Choir:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here