Posts tagged ‘Mercy’

Punishment and Patience

Credit: “Jonah foretells the destruction of Nineveh” by Jan Luyken (1712) / Public Domain

At the end of the book that bears his name, the prophet Jonah is seething. God has just spared city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which is the arch-enemy empire of Israel. Jonah had seen this coming. In fact, he was so concerned that God might allow Israel’s arch-enemy to stand after God called the prophet to go and try to help Nineveh that he tried to hop a ship sailing the opposite direction from Nineveh to Tarshish. Jonah was not interested in giving any opportunity to God to extend mercy to the Ninevites. And he says as much:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah wanted the Lord to be a judgment juggernaut – not a gracious God.

And yet, around 150 years later, God’s judgment does come for Nineveh, but through a different prophet – the prophet Nahum. This is what Nahum has to say:

The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” (Nahum 1:14)

It turns out that the Ninevites repented of their sin during the time of Jonah, but then fell back into their sin after the time of Jonah. And now God’s judgment will come on them.

So often, like Jonah, we want God’s judgment to come in our way and on our schedule. We want to be judge, juror, and executioner of those who have sinned against us, or even of those who are morally opposed to us. But Jonah’s experience with Nineveh echoes the apostle Paul’s words:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:18-19)

God will judge – but not always in our way and on our schedule. Indeed, as Nahum – the prophet who does announce of God’s judgment – says:

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nahum 1:3)

The Lord does have power and punishment for sinners, but only after the Lord practices patience – lots of patience – with sinners. And for this, we should be grateful. Because God is not only patient with them, but patient with us. So, let’s be patient with God and allow Him to carry out His mercy and His judgment in His way.

I have a feeling He might know what He’s doing.

August 15, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What makes God, God?

What makes God, God? Traditionally, God’s fundamental attributes have been described as omnipotence – that God has power over all – omniscience – that He knows all – and omnipresence – that He is with all. Certainly, these are all true and critical attributes of God. But as the prophet Micah closes His book, He sees something else foundational to God.

Micah begins with an announcement from God that He will rescue Israel in power. God says to Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

God’s power will overpower all the powers of the world, Micah says. This is God’s omnipotence at its most expansive. But it’s not just this traditional attribute of God that makes God, God. For Micah continues with a critical question:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

What is it, Micah muses, that makes God so unique? What is it that sets Him apart? His answer is as stunning as it is soothing:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

It is God’s mercy – and not only His power, knowledge, or even presence – that makes God, God. What makes God utterly unique is that He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead, He hurls our sins away and, by doing so, becomes our hope and stay.

Martin Luther spoke of two types of God’s work – His strange work and His proper work. God’s strange work is His work of judgment in power. It is a work that is meant to reprove and, if not heeded, condemn. But though God does this work, it is strange to Him. It is not His preferred mode of operation. His preferred mode of operation – His proper work – is that of mercy and grace. God’s desire is to redeem and not just to reprove – to commute the sentence of sin instead of condemning people in sin. This is what makes God, God. And for this, we can be thankful. Because it is God’s mercy that allows us to approach Him, to rely on Him, and to find our rest in Him.

In Hebrew, the name Micah means, “Who is like the Lord?” The answer is, of course, “No one.” But because of what the Lord is like, we can like the Lord. We can love the Lord. Because He loves us.

August 1, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What’s So Great About God?

Credit: Pixabay / Pexels.com

In Hebrew, the name “Micah” means “Who is like the Lord?”

In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah concludes the book that bears his name with the question his name asks:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

Right before he asks this question, Micah speaks of God’s unmatched power on behalf of Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the LORD our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

Just as God dazzled the world when He rescued the people of Israel out from under their slavery to the world’s preeminent superpower at that time – Egypt – God will do so again during Micah’s day when, again, He rescues His people out from under their oppression under the likes of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

But this unlimited and unmatched power is not what makes Micah’s God unique. It is not just that Micah’s God can “beat up” on other nations’ gods.

Instead, what makes Micah’s God truly unequaled is something other than His power:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

What makes God matchless, according to Micah, is His mercy. All other religions and gods find their foundations in merit – you do your best, and the gods will perhaps sweep in and do the rest. But Micah reminds us that even when we do our worst, God, though He may discipline us, ultimately takes our worst and hurls it down into the deepest ocean trench and, in exchange, gives us His compassion.

Power, then, is not what foundationally makes God, God. Mercy is. Yes, we should fear God’s judgment on our sin. But we can actually see God’s mercy for our sin. Because “we do see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9). And there is no one like Him – One who would die for our sin.

March 14, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Real Grace for Real Sinners

Credit: Michael Morse on Pexels.com

Whenever the topic of sin comes up in a Bible study or conversation, I have a friend who will joke: “Since we’re talking about sin, how about we all tell each other the worst thing we’ve ever done.” He always gets a laugh, but it’s always a bit of a nervous laugh. I’m don’t think many of us – or, let’s be honest, any of us – are comfortable being forthcoming about the worst thing we think we’ve ever done.

Sin is strange like this. We will speak freely in generalities about how we are sinful, but when someone asks us to get specific – especially about the sins that most embarrass us – we fall silent. We may be comfortable with the idea of being a sinner in general because we know that everyone sins, but when it comes to our specific sins, we can sometimes worry that we’re the only one who has ever done what we have done. And, if people found out what we have done, they would reject us in disgust.

In 1544, a dear friend of Martin Luther’s named George Spalatin offered some advice to a local pastor who wanted to know whether it would be permissible to preside over the wedding of a man who wanted to marry the stepmother of his deceased wife. Spalatin gave this pastor the green light to perform the wedding. When Luther found out about the guidance Spalatin had given, he was aghast and harshly criticized Spalatin.

After being criticized by his dear friend and mentor, Spalatin fell into a deep depression because he assumed that he had committed a grievous sin that could not be forgiven. When Luther found out about his friend’s despondency, he wrote him a letter where he reiterated to his friend that though he thought his advice was wrongheaded and sinful, he himself was not unforgivable:

The devil has plucked from your heart all the beautiful Christian sermons concerning the grace and mercy of God in Christ by which you used to teach, admonish, and comfort others with a cheerful spirit and a great, buoyant courage. Or it must surely be that heretofore you have been only a trifling sinner, conscious only of paltry and insignificant faults and frailties. Therefore, my faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us, who are real, great, and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us, as though He could be our helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal, and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a Savior and Redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea, from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total.

Luther reminds Spalatin that there is no sin for which Christ did not die. There is no mistake – even the mistake of poor pastoral advice – that Christ cannot forgive. This means that the worst thing we have ever done is not beyond the reach of grace that comes from God’s one and only Son. We don’t need to be afraid of our biggest sins because we have an even bigger Savior.

So, what is the worst thing you’ve ever done? What sin would you prefer to keep secret? Don’t let that sin shame you into staying away from Jesus. Don’t let that sin shame you into hiding from others. If Christ can handle the world’s sins, He can handle your worst. He wants to. Because He loves you.

October 11, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Grace. Period.

In Exodus 32, while Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, one of which is a prohibition against idolatry, the Israelites are committing idolatry at the base of the mountain by worshiping a golden calf that mimics the gods they once saw while they were slaves in Egypt. When God sees what is happening with the Israelites while He is meeting with Moses, He is furious. He says to Moses:

I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation. (Exodus 32:9-10)

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His ambassadors to a world broken by sin. Now He wants to start over with a new ambassador in Moses. But Moses argues for a different plan:

LORD, why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that He brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from Your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on Your people. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom You swore by Your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” (Exodus 32:11-13)

Moses intercedes for Israel, and God responds and relents:

The LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened. (Exodus 32:14)

What is especially interesting is what Moses says to get God to relent. Moses argues two things: it will be bad for God’s international reputation to destroy Israel, and God will undo His prior promise to their forefathers about giving them many descendants. Moses does not, however, call on the grace of God, even though grace is what God ultimately shows. But what God shows in Exodus 32, He explicitly declares, two chapters later, in Exodus 34:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

There’s more to God than commands against sin. There is grace for sinners. And although commands are what we need for our own good, grace is how we can actually relate to God. Grace is when God says to us not, “I love you if…” “I love you if you keep My commandments.” “I love you if you keep yourselves from sin.” “I love you if you prove yourselves worthy of love.” Grace says none of these things. Instead, grace simply says, “I love you. Period.”

For those who have never heard that from anyone in your lives, this is the declaration of your Father in heaven. God may give commandments. But He lavishes grace. Strive to keep His commandments. But when you don’t, find your rest, remedy, and rescue in His grace.

September 20, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Joshua Paused the Battle of Jericho

When I was a kid, I would sing a song in Sunday School called “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” It was all about Joshua’s conquest of the infamous city, whose walls came “tumblin’ down.” The song was fun to sing, but it also recounted a chapter from Israel’s history that has long been troubling to a lot of people. Israel’s conquest of Canaan, beginning with Jericho, involved a lot of violence and slaughter, which raises an important and understandable question: how could a good God lead His people in such violent warfare?

When Joshua fights this inaugural battle against the people of Canaan, the battle plan God gives him is a strange one:

See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in. (Joshua 6:2-5)

God says to Joshua He will bring the walls of the city down, but only after six days of open marching.

In ancient battle plans, the element of surprise was key. Just a few chapters later, Adoni-Zedek, who is the king of Jerusalem at this time, moves to attack the Gibeonites because he does not like that they have made a peace treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites ask for Joshua’s help, which he delivers when he takes Adoni-Zedek in battle “by surprise” (Joshua 10:9). Surprise was standard.

But there’s no surprise at Jericho. The chapter opens by noting that “the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites” (Joshua 6:1). The people of Jericho knew a defeat was imminent. So why would Joshua wait? Why not just make those Jericho walls tumble on the first day instead of waiting until the seventh?

Before they reach the Promised Land, Moses describes God’s character to the Israelites like this:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)

God’s desire and nature is not to destroy wicked people in anger, but to patiently wait for them to turn to Him. Indeed, even when a prostitute from Jericho named Rahab trusts in God and helps the Israelites, He gladly spares her (cf. Joshua 2). The six days of marching, then, are six days of waiting – six days of God waiting for the people of Jericho to repent. Before Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, he paused the battle of Jericho.

When God first promises the land of Canaan to Abraham, He says to Abraham that he will have to wait to enter it because its sin “has not yet reached its full measure.” 675 years pass before Joshua fights the first battle against the people there. It turns out that God is not only patient with sinners, He is very patient.

Thus, the violent warfare of Joshua’s day is not the story of a vengeful God gleefully destroying sinners, but the story of sorrowful God who has waited and waited for sinners to repent, but to no avail.

God is still patient with sinners today. His invitation to us remains the same: turn to Him and trust in Him. Sin does not need to destroy you, for His Son can save you.

August 2, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Coronavirus: Serving Our Sick Neighbors

File:Staff monitoring passengers' body temperature in Wuhan railway station during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.jpg

Credit: Wikipedia

It’s spreading so quickly. What started as a little-known virus, infecting a group of people in Wuhan in eastern China, is now spreading across the world. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency. The United States has issued a Level 4 travel advisory, its highest alert, against travel to China.

Part of what makes the coronavirus so frightening is the unknowns associated with it. A live map that tracks the virus shows over 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus. Almost over 500 people have recovered from the virus while over 350 have, sadly, died. This leaves over 16,000 people who are still sick and whose fates we are still awaiting. Doctors are also not sure precisely how the virus can spread. Can it spread before symptoms appear? The jury is still out. There are some reports that the virus can enter a body through simply rubbing one’s eyes if a person has picked up a trace of the virus on their hands.

In the midst of much fear, one of the things we can be thankful for are doctors who go into harms’ way to care for patients. This kind of care has not always, historically, been how society has reacted to sicknesses. In his book The Triumph of Christianity, Rodney Stark quotes the Christian bishop Dionysius of Alexandria, who describes how many people reacted when a smallpox epidemic swept through the Roman Empire in the third century:

At the first onset of the disease, people pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.

Dionysius goes on explain that the response of Christians to this epidemic was quite different:

Most of our brothers showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.

It is this uniquely Christian spirit and legacy of caring for the sick, instead of leaving them to die, that endures across much of the world even today.

In 1527, the bubonic plague arrived in Wittenberg Germany, where a monk named Martin Luther was teaching. He chose to stay in Wittenberg and provide care for the sick, during which time he wrote a tract: Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague. Luther encouraged people not take unnecessary risks during epidemics, writing:

Examples in Holy Scripture abundantly prove that to flee from death is not wrong in itself. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city.

And yet, even as Luther encouraged people to take every available precaution to prevent the spread of a disease, he did not encourage them to do so at the expense of those who were suffering, even if helping the suffering endangered their own lives:

It is the devil who…takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles.

Luther goes on to explain why, if we find ourselves in a position to help during a plague, we should defy the fears the devil plants in us:

If Christ shed His blood for me and died for me, why should I not expose myself to some small dangers for His sake and disregard this feeble plague? If you can terrorize, Christ can strengthen me. If you can kill, Christ can give life. If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine. Should not my dear Christ, with His precepts, His kindness, and all His encouragement, be more important in my spirit than you, roguish devil, with your false terrors in my weak flesh? God forbid! Get away, devil. Here is Christ and here am I, His servant in this work. Let Christ prevail! Amen.

Amen, indeed.

And so today, while nations across the world continue to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, I give thanks for the medical professionals who are taking great risks to care for those who are dangerously ill. These professionals are serving their neighbors – both those neighbors who are sick and those neighbors who will not get sick, thanks to their work.

May their love and care do much good for our world.

February 3, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Lamentation and Restoration

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Lament is not something at which we, as a culture, are particularly skilled. Our carefully curated posts on social media often show only the best moments of our lives, any pain being artfully disguised behind filtered photos of smiling faces in exotic places. At funerals, we often hear about how a deceased loved one would not want those left behind to cry. Instead, they would only want a celebration! And, of course, there is the ubiquitous answer to the ubiquitous question, “How are you?” Any answer other than “fine” may draw some disinterested eye rolls. After all, the question is not really a request for information, but the product of polite social expectation. Lament is not something at which we, as a culture, are particularly skilled.

And yet, in the Bible, there is a whole book called “Lamentations.” It describes the despair and despondency of the Israelites after their nation falls into the hands of the Babylonians and they are carried off from their homes into exile. The book opens with a haunting picture:

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. (Lamentations 1:1)

The capital city of Israel, Jerusalem, once the center of Israel’s life, now lies abandoned. So Israel laments.

But Israel does not just lament over an empty city. Israel also laments over her own sin, for she knows that her exile is a divine punishment for her rebellion:

Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honored her despise her, for they have all seen her naked; she herself groans and turns away. Her filthiness clung to her skirts; she did not consider her future. Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her. (Lamentations 1:8-9) 

In very picturesque language, Israel describes the blight of her sin and the resulting plight of her people. It is brutal.

So, what is Israel’s way forward? Is this the end of her story? We know the answer is “no.” She, however, is not so sure. Lamentations ends like this:

Restore us to Yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless You have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 5:21-22)

Israel is hoping for God’s grace, but she is not sure of God’s grace. She wonders if God has not rejected her forever.

Ancient Israel is not the only one who sometimes doubts God’s grace. We do, too. I have talked to many people over my years in ministry who struggle to believe that God’s grace could be for them. Their guilt feels too heavy. Their sin seems too deep. They truly wonder if God would ever, or even could ever, help people like them.

When Jesus is speaking with His disciples, He says to them, “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected” (Mark 9:12). And Jesus is rejected – on a cross. He is rejected by men and, ultimately, by God as He takes on Himself the sins of the world – all of the things that God rejects. But because God rejected Jesus then, we have the promise that He will not reject us now. He will always restore us, even when we fall into sin. He will always invite us to return, no matter how far we stray. We have no reason to wonder about God’s grace. It is for us.

Lamentations ends with a doubt about whether or not a nation’s sin can be forgiven. We, however, have received a confident answer to that doubt in Christ. There is no sin too great for grace.

September 23, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Biggest Humanitarian Crisis In The World

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Credit: USAID

Katherine Zimmerman, a Middle East expert, has called it the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world.  In 2014, war broke out in the poverty-stricken nation of Yemen when Iranian-backed rebels stormed and occupied Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa.  Since then, a Saudi-led coalition, along with the Yemeni government, has been trying to take back the city.  Over 10,000 people have died, half of which have been civilians, as a direct result of the fighting.  Indirect casualties are even higher.  Save the Children reports that 130 children are dying every day in Yemen.  Ms. Zimmerman fears that conditions in the country will continue to deteriorate, explaining, “As the conflict goes on, the people are suffering, and it’s to the point now where we’re looking at a cholera epidemic, and massive risk of famine.”

Sadly, this crisis, half a world away, has been regularly eclipsed by a steady stream of riveting domestic intrigue.  But the cries of these victims of war deserve our listening ears and concerned hearts.

One of the most common prayers in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, is that the Lord would hear the cries of the oppressed:

  • “Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray.” (Psalm 5:2)
  • “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to You for help, as I lift up my hands toward Your Most Holy Place.” (Psalm 28:2)
  • “Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.” (Psalm 61:1)

The glorious promise is that the Lord does hear the cries of the oppressed:

  • “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)
  • “Praise be to the LORD, for He has heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 28:6)
  • “I love the LORD, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1)

If the Lord hears the cries of the downtrodden, we should too.  So please join me in lending your prayers to the cries of the Yemenis, asking God to bring this crisis to an end.  Pray also that famine and disease would not overtake this land.

In a world where our news cycles regularly revolve around the powerful, it can be all too easy to forget about those on the margins of our societies.  The gospel, however, reminds us that we worship a God who marginalized Himself by being born into a poor village called Bethlehem and growing up as a poor carpenter from Nazareth only to become a poor rabbi who was executed by His enemies on a cross.  Jesus lived His life as a marginalized man.  This man on the margins, however, has promised to use His very marginalization on the cross to draw all people to Himself (cf. John 12:32).  This man on the margins has turned out to be nothing less than the very center of history.

Jesus’ method of marginalization should most certainly inform our mission of reaching and loving the world for Him and in Him.  So, let’s keep our peripheral vision peeled to see those others miss and love those our world overlooks.  For this is what Jesus has done with us.

August 6, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Lessons From Lincoln

Thanksgiving Dinner

Credit: Luminary PhotoProject / Flickr

I have made it a tradition of sorts to read one of Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamations each year during this time.  His proclamations are not only extraordinarily well-crafted pieces of oratory statecraft, they are also genuinely theologically rich.  In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863, Mr. Lincoln recounts the blessings God has bestowed on this nation and then declares:

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

President Lincoln beseeches the nation to give thanks on its knees, humbly recognizing that anything it has is not due to some inherent civic merit or to some twisted theology of a manifest destiny (a concept Mr. Lincoln resolutely opposed), but to the unmerited mercy of God.  In other words, the president recognized that rather than judging this nation as its sins deserved in wrath, God instead blessed this nation apart from its sins out of grace.  And for this, Mr. Lincoln was thankful.

What struck me the most about President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation as I read it this year was how the president believed divine mercy should lead to concrete action.  Mr. Lincoln concludes his proclamation thusly:

I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to God for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In view of God’s mercy, the president invites the American people to three things:  repentance, remembrance, and restoration.  He invites the American people to repent of their sins, both in the North and in the South, understanding that any snooty swagger of self-righteousness can never receive mercy from God because it does not understand the need for the grace of God.  He also invites the American people to a remembrance of those who are suffering – those who have become widows, orphans, and mourners in the strife of the Civil War.  He finally calls the American people to restoration – to be healed from a wound of division that runs so deep that it has led Americans to take up arms against Americans.

As I reflect on the wisdom in President Lincoln’s proclamation, the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes come to mind: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, examples of delusional self-righteousness abound – both among the secular and the spiritual – which close us off to appreciating and receiving God’s mercy.  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, widows, orphans, and mourners still live among us, often unnoticed and sometimes even ill-regarded, suffering silently and in desperate need of our help.  Today, as in Mr. Lincoln’s day, America still suffers from a wound of division, which some, almost masochistically, delight in ripping open farther and cutting into deeper for their own cynical political purposes.  The problems that plagued our nation in 1863 still plague our nation today in 2017.  Our problems persist.  But so too does the mercy of God.

154 years later, we are still extravagantly blessed with bounty.  154 years later, our republic has not dissolved, even as it has frayed.  154 years later, God still is not treating us as our sins deserve.  Our sinful rebellion, it seems, cannot thwart the tenacious grace of God.  And for that, on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful.

November 23, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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