The Problem With Mercy (Friend Post Friday #8)

He may be the only Patriots and Red Sox fan to live south of the Mason-Dixon line, and he belongs to a small subset of pastors whose clothing of choice includes a Dr. Pepper baseball cap and jean shorts.  He blogs fearlessly (at More Conversations That Matter) about topics that some shy away from; yet his goal isn’t “being right” but starting a conversation that births change, hope, and healthy dialogue that seems to be slowly disappearing from our culture.  He also happens to be my dad, and today I’m excited to introduce you to him as my October “Friend Post” blogger!!  The man isn’t without faults (he did force me to eat canned spinach once….CANNED!) but I’ve always deeply respected the way he lives his life.  And it’s not so much the fact that he started a church and pastored for years, it’s the way he allows God to move Him.  He cares little for what people think of him, yet you can’t be around him without feeling seen and valued.  In addition to blogging and loving people in his community and beyond, he’s currently a part-time pastor at Westside Community Church in Huntsville, AL, eBay selling genius, and there’s a rumor he’s even working on a book.  I hope you’ll let the humble words of his post reverberate in your soul and find yourself closer to God’s heart in the end.

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“The Problem with Mercy” – by Roger Martin

God does not want you to consider mercy.
God does not want you to attempt mercy.
God does not want you to extend mercy.

God wants you to love mercy.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (The Bible, Micah 6:8, NIV)

My daughter, Carrye, has part of this staggering word from God indelibly inked on her arm.

“Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.”

Do justly. I understand that. Pursue what is good and right. Of course I should do that.

Walk humbly with God. It’s amazing that God wants to walk with me at all, but if He wants that, I’m in.

Love mercy. Uh…this bothers me.

It bothers me because he does not ask me to be merciful. He asks me to love mercy.

On rare occasions, I do love mercy.

Several months ago, I was on my way to an eye appointment. I was in a hurry, not because I was late, but because I am always in a hurry. Approaching a stop sign to turn right, I saw a huge stream of cars approaching from the left a little way back. I would be waiting for a long time to get through this stop sign, but if I pulled out right away, I would save a lot of waiting. I made a break for it, after a brief hesitation at the stop sign.

I saw the blue lights in my rearview mirror almost immediately. I eased into the Burger King parking lot. I had joined the tens of thousands of thousands of lawbreakers in America that would be would be caught. Drug offenders. Thieves. Undocumented immigrants. Stop sign-ignorers. I was busted. And now I would face the law. I waited, heart thumping, watching the officer in the car through my side view mirror.

Finally, the officer opened the door and marched toward my window. Here is what I knew. That officer approaching my window could write me a ticket or issue me a warning. He could fine me or he could reprimand me. He could give me justice or give me mercy. Guess what I wanted? Mercy. But it was more than that. In that moment, I loved mercy. Believed in it. Hoped for it. Thought of ways to negotiate for it. Longed for it. Championed it. Mercy for lawbreakers…please!

And God presses into my heart a reminder about all the other lawbreakers in our country, and He asks me the question, “Do you love mercy for them?” I think of people like Nuri Chavarria, resident of Norwalk, CT, who came into our country illegally 24 years ago. Assigned for deportation, she was supposed to board a plane to Guatemala on July 20 of this year. She instead took refuge in a church and has since been granted a temporary stay. Do I love mercy for her? Do I love mercy for 51 year old Robert Booker, who is 2 decades into a life sentence for three non-violent drug sale offenses?

I hear so many voices in our country today clamoring for justice, for law, for full consequences. She knew the law. She knew the consequences. She broke the law, and now she should pay. Send her to Guatemala. He should not have been selling drugs; put him away for life. It’s only fair. We love justice.

Wait a minute, Roger. Doesn’t God want justice, too? Are you suggesting that laws should be ignored, that crimes should not have consequences? I am not. After all, in the instruction quoted earlier, God says “act justly.” We need laws that champion justice, and just laws must have consequences. I believe that God calls us to both “do justly” AND “love mercy.”

But something is wrong when I love justice for other lawbreakers and love mercy for me.

God calls us into the difficult space of loving both justice and mercy for all. What will it look like for me to love both justice and mercy for others? It will help, of course, to look at the deeper story of the person. It is why I want tell the officer a bit of my story in an appeal for mercy. I could tell you that Nuri Chavarria has four children—all American citizens—the oldest of which has cerebral palsy. Is that the only reason to seek mercy? No, but mercy becomes a bit easier when we look at the person behind the crime and put ourselves into her shoes.

The officer wrote me a ticket for failure to yield. Justice. He told me he could have cited me for more. Mercy. The court offered to take the offense off my record if I would go to traffic class. Mercy. I got both justice and mercy. Are there ways to love both justice and mercy? Could Nuri be fined and allowed to pursue citizenship? Could Robert’s sentence for a non-violent offense be changed to time served—24 years?

We could debate details, but the bigger question is whether we ever love mercy for anyone besides ourselves? God is pressing me on this. Roger, will you love mercy for others as much as you want it for you?

Yesterday, I stopped into a tiny little thrift store, not unusual for me since I sell on eBay and am always looking for items to purchase and resell. The older sales clerk chatted merrily on her phone in a language I did not understand. I peered into the glass case between me and her. That’s when I saw them: four somewhat valuable porcelain figurines. Four very distinct figurines. Four figurines that were stolen from my home in February of this year. It was unmistakable. I was stunned. I was a bit angry. I was perplexed. My mind whirled. Did she buy them from the thief? Was there a different story? What should I do?

I asked to see them, and she placed them on the glass counter top. I told her they had been stolen from my home. I told her that she should not buy from that person again, because the items were stolen. She smiled and shook her head: “Not pay. Donations only.” I told her that they had been stolen in February. She smiled and nodded, carefully putting each back into the glass case. I asked what she was selling them for. $10 apiece. She smiled again.

I could call the police. The officer who responded to the theft had answered my exact question. “If you see anything in a pawn shop somewhere, feel free to call us.” I could call them. I could demand that they be returned to me. That would be fair. But I sensed that God wanted me to love mercy. God had blessed me with many eBay sales. This woman was eking out a living trying to sell mostly yard sale leftovers. My figurines were easily the most valuable items in her store. I smiled back at the clerk, and I left her store slightly closer to the heart of God than I was when I walked in. Slightly brighter. Slightly freer.

Love mercy. Love mercy because it is right. Love mercy because God does. Love mercy because you deeply want mercy for yourself. There is, after all, this sobering word from Jesus:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (The Bible, Matthew 7:2, NIV)

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