Is there a limit to God’s Mercy?

Audio: “Is there a limit to God’s Mercy?” **

            One of the central messages of God’s Word is the mercy and love of God through the redemption made by Christ on the cross, and His Resurrection from the dead.  As believers, we lean hard on the message of God’s love and mercy.  God is merciful!  His love drives him to relent from the consequences of our rebellion when we call out to Him for mercy and forgiveness.

“But you, O Lord, are full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” Psalm 86:15 KJV 2000

“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Psalm 145:8-9 KJV

            But is there a limit to God’s mercy?  One would think not, but it was a hot question for at least one of Jesus’ disciples.

Peter’s Question

            I love Peter!  He was a spontaneous thinker.  He asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me?  Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)  This is a good and very human question.  I would have asked the same thing.  

            I mean, how does this forgiveness thing stretch to certain people who do things that are entirely unforgiveable?  Who do so chronically?  Just forgive and forget?  

            Jesus’ answer was puzzling and challenging. “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!” (v.22). 

            Some understand this to mean, “Try to count the times you forgive–you will lose count!”  

            Some understand this in the sense that if seven is the number symbolizing perfection, and it is God’s own character, then a multiplication of seven means, “as many times as God forgives”. This is a bit closer to the meaning Jesus intended.

To Whom Much Has Been Given

            To clarify–for in his mercy, Jesus eliminates hazy comprehension to those who really want to understand–Jesus goes on to tell an important parable about a man who owed his king a debt he could not repay. The king ordered him to be imprisoned and his household enslaved until the debt was repaid.  The man cried out for mercy, and the king forgave the debt. 

            The man, then, intentionally went out to find a fellow servant (his equal) who owed him a much smaller amount of money.  The man violently grabbed up his fellow servant and demanded to be repaid–“or else!”  The fellow servant dropped down and begged for mercy for time to repay. Instead, this shark of a man took his fellow servant to court and had him thrown in prison.  

            When the king got wind of this man’s unmerciful actions (the man’s distressed fellow servants told on him!), the king summoned the man and called him to account.  The king’s justice required that this man pass on to others the mercy that had been given to him, but the man didn’t.  Therefore, the just king’s wrath was kindled, and he threw the man into prison to be tortured until he could repay.  

             Jesus’ answer and parable was a reminder to Peter that Peter was a recipient of God’s gracious mercy.  Peter’s question has its answer in that truth.  

            As fellow recipients of God’s mercy through Christ, we should, like Christ, have a continual, ongoing attitude of forgiveness for others.  It is not about any one or 490 incidences.  It is not about a single person or type of forgiveness or the brand of sin involved.  It is not about forgiveness only when asked for forgiveness, either.  It is about having a heart of forgiveness, generosity of spirit to others, concern for others’ welfare above one’s own, and ultimately the Christ-like sacrificial laying down of one’s life so another can live. 

            “Therefore, be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful.” Luke 6:36 World English Bible

            The end product of this condition of heart is that the heart ceases its striving.  Bitterness, resentment, and unlove is a hard load to carry.  It destroys utterly.

            “The merciful man does good for his own soul, But he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.” Proverbs 11:17 New Heart English Bible

            Jesus calls us to lay down our burdens of unforgiveness, because we CAN. He’s paid for it.  His justice is higher than mine. He can redeem any injustice done to me.  He’s got this.

But what of other passages?  

            I’ve been studying again through the “short books” of the prophets. In these, God addresses the generations of sin of His own people Israel. He warns them ahead of time that the known consequences of their rebellion toward God is about to come to call. In fact, the time has come for God to finally act.  

            It is a practice of God to use not only the mouths of his prophets to speak, but also their very lives. God tells Hosea, through an amazing life-enacted message, that his daughter shall be named Loruhamah, for, he says, “I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away” (Hosea 1:6).  Her life, then, would be a continual reminder to Israel that the clock is ticking toward their judgment.

            At this point, am I to understand that God will not have mercy?  That God’s mercy does have a limit?  My question is then, “Has God’s character of mercy changed?” 

            Personally, is there a time or condition when God’s mercy will not extend to me or to a loved one?  Join me tomorrow for Part II of this very important question. 

© July 2019 by    

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WORSHIP WITH ME – “Kyrie Eleison” by Fernando Ortega (YouTube; 4:10 min.)

Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison (“Lord, Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy”)
by Fernando Ortega
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BANNER PHOTO: Kaweah River, Three Rivers, CA. All photography, unless otherwise noted, is by and the property of Tamara at See Gallery for photo credits and some extra photo thoughts on my own photographic ventures.

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