Mercy is not often a word we hear in our everyday discussions. It seems to be an old-fashioned term that has been replaced by tolerance and politically correct expressions. Open the newspaper and there are no stories that encapsulate the meaning of mercy. Instead stories of intolerance abound in which one group insists that they are the ones representing sanity.
For me the word mercy is closely intertwined with the word forgiveness. If one shows mercy, one is often able to forgive the shortcomings of others and their surroundings – including their religious and cultural beliefs. The merciful heart is already open to humanity and is not as judgemental as those hearts that are hardened and show no mercy. The merciful heart is also open to love – love for one’s fellow human being whether the person is a family member, friend or a stranger.
A perfect example comes to mind when I think of mercy: Jesus and the way in which he treated those in society that were often rejected because of their social standing. Think of Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the tax collectors he came across. He showed mercy to these people: he opened his heart to them and loved them for the human beings that they were. His actions towards them were not coloured with intolerance, misunderstanding and prejudice.
If we could be merciful towards one another on a daily basis, maybe we could work towards moving to a society that is more merciful. Maybe, once again, the word mercy can become a part of our everyday vocabulary.
What is your understanding of mercy?
(This post was inspired by this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt)
As shown in a previous post, my family and I discovered the Buddhist Temple that was officially opened in South Africa in 2005. We had been driving along the N4 to Witbank when we saw the Temple building in the distance. My husband remembered reading about its opening in the paper and mentioned that he would like to see it one day. “What better time than the present?” I responded. So we took the time to look for our way off the highway, and to find the entrance to this religious place. The patterns we saw on the buildings were beautiful: so intricate and carefully painted.
The designs looked beautiful not only near but also from afar:
We saw intricate patterns as well when we looked inside the Temple:
(For more pictures of this African Buddhist Temple, you can visit my previous post.)
We enjoyed our visit to the Temple for the beauty we saw in the patterns, as well as the serenity of the place.
Words often heard when sitting on a hard wooden bench on a Sunday morning. The words imply a strong community. One in which all members are loved for who they are: followers of Christ. I can imagine the early missionaries saying these words to their converts – and saying them with sincerity. I can imagine the small groups of early Christians gaining comfort from one another especially during their persecution while under the Roman Empire.
But now, when I hear these words, I am surrounded by strangers – many of whom I do not see every week. The words are said by a man who has not made any connection with the people who come, week after week, to hear what he has to say about the Word of God. Yes, the modern church-goer and Christian believer is beloved: beloved by God. But beloved by the other members of the Christian community? This is not what I sense when I attend mass at a large parish church in the city. I have felt beloved by my fellow community members when attending a small parish church – but not when I do so at a large one. Instead, when the priest walks out the front doors of the church at the end of mass, believers stream out after him and then go their own way.
Modern life and the rush to get to where we are going seems to have taken away an important aspect of the way in which we view our fellow believers. I pray for a time when we can once again look at other Christians and called them “beloved” with sincerity in our hearts.
Do you feel “beloved” in your Christian community?
“I want people to fill their minds with passages of Scripture while they are well and strong, that they may have sure help in the day of need. I want them to be diligent in studying their Bibles, and becoming familiar with their contents, in order that the grand old Book may stand by them and talk with them when all earthly friends fail. From the bottom of my heart, I pity that person who never reads their Bible. I wonder how they expect to draw their consolation in their time of need.” ~ J.C. Ryle
Reading God’s Word
Ryle suggests that when we are strong spiritually, we should read God’s Word. While reading we not only become familiar with what is expected of us as God’s children, but we come to realise as well what strategies were used by those depicted in the Bible to resist temptation; or what they did to overcome the obstacles they experienced while trying to live a godly life. In reading what others experience, we can come to know the rewards of our Faith; and to celebrate the strength of God’s Spirit in those who believe in Him.
For it is in knowing these stories, and in knowing the strategies that others have successfully used to overcome personal obstacles, that we can overcome the obstacles in our own lives. When we are tempted, we can know that we are not the only Christians who have experienced this. We can know too that God’s Spirit is within us and that He can give us the strength to remain true to our Faith and belief. Reading the Scriptures during times of spiritual strength not only gives us the time to learn of these stories, but also allows us to learn of pages that we can turn to for comfort in our time of need. The more we know the content of our Bible, the more we know which part to turn to when we need to read words of comfort and guidance.
I would like to compare our spiritual health to our physical health. We are told that in order to maintain healthy bodies, we need to eat the right foods and exercise. We cannot expect to experience physical well-being if we sit on the couch all day (or at our desks at work) eating fast foods and processed foods. We have come to understand that feeding our bodies with fresh fruit and vegetables is one way to achieve optimum health; and that moving our bodies is an important factor in physical health.
In order to maintain our spiritual health, we need to feed our spiritual souls. One way in which to do this is to read the Bible. Reading passages in the Scriptures is one way in which to feed our Faith, our belief in God. We read of the miracles He has performed, and the ways in which He affected the lives of people who have lived in the past. Reading God’s Word guides us on how to increase our spiritual strength and faith. In addition, the more we know what exactly our faith is made up of, the more firmly we are to believe in it.
Reading the Sciptures need not be done in isolation. Guidance from Bible study groups, led by someone who has a vast knowledge of the Bible, can be helpful to help increase our knowledge and understanding of the printed pages. Discussion with others can also help to cement our understanding of certain passages as we grapple with issues of modern living.
Just as we work on our physical health, let us work on our spiritual well-being.
Yesterday, while cooking dinner, I decided to listen to an album I hadn’t listened to for a long time: Jordin Sparks. From the first time I heard it, one particular song on Jordin Sparks’ album has always touched me: “God Loves Ugly”. This is not the sort of song you would expect to find on the album of a pop singer!
The song descibes the feeling of a woman (I can assume this as it is sung by a woman) who feels ugly inside; a woman who tries to look beautiful on the outside but is unable to believe that she is truely beautiful. She feels ugly inside and accepts that her inner self translates into her outward appearance. How often do we feel like this? We compare our physical appearance with the unrealistic images that are found in the media. Added to which our low self-esteem makes us believe we are not good enough, not intelligent enough, not skilled enough, not beautiful enough.
The chorus of the song says it all:
“But God loves ugly
He doesn’t see the way I see
Oh God takes ugly
And turns it into something that is beautiful.
Apparently I’m so beautiful
‘Cause you love me.”
God does not gaze at us and see what other people perceive – or even what we see in ourselves. He looks deep down into us and sees our true, inner beauty. And if we do have some ugliness in us (whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual), He is able to transform it into a thing of beauty. God transcends all ugliness; He transforms it. If we can accept and believe in this truth, then we are transformed and can then accept the love that is given to us by others.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when God looks at us, what He sees is both our inner and outer beauty.
Unfortunately Jordin Sparks never made a video of this song with its inspiring message. What I found was an evocative video created by a fan to showcase its message: