“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
I like the ideas of the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr; so the quotes in this column will come from the book he coauthored with John Feister, “Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount.”
“Mercy is like the mystery of forgiveness. By definition, mercy and forgiveness are unearned, undeserved, not owned. If it isn’t all these three, it won’t be experienced as mercy. If you think people have to be merciful, or on the other hand, try to earn mercy, you’ve lost the mystery of mercy and forgiveness. I believe with all my heart that mercy and forgiveness are the whole gospel.”
“The experience of forgiveness or mercy is the experience of a magnanimous God who loves out of total gratuitousness. … Salvation is God’s loving-kindness, a loving kindness that is ‘forever.’”
I think your idea of how merciful God is, can be influenced or even determined by how merciful you feel toward yourself and others. I often encounter people who feel guilty about things they have done. They drag a ball and chain around because they cannot forgive themselves. I used to do that myself, until I realized how incredibly merciful and forgiving God is. I then realized that dragging that ball and chain of guilt around did not help anyone, even me. Now that I feel God’s mercy, I can turn my attention to learning from my mistakes, in order to become a better person. And when I meet someone who is still burdened down by past mistakes, I tell them that God and Christianity is about forgiveness. If they can believe in God’s forgiveness enough to forgive themselves, they may also feel God’s mercy.
But then there is the matter of how much we forgive other people. I am fortunate, because not only have I forgiven everyone, but I can’t even remember anything anyone has done to me that requires forgiveness from me. Am I more forgiving than God? I really doubt that I could be more forgiving than God. At most I could only be as forgiving as God. But if I forgive everyone, then God must forgive everyone. So by me being so merciful, I feel the unconditional mercy of God. That means I feel mercy by experiencing and thus feeling the mercy of God.
But people often cannot believe that God forgives or has mercy on everyone. They usually mention Hitler as someone they cannot conceive of God forgiving. And in their personal lives they even have trouble forgiving people who have hurt them in much more minor ways. So they drag around resentments that undermine their happiness, and keep their wounds from healing. In this way they continue to hurt themselves; so I am sad for them. They must be merciful and forgive or they will not obtain the merciful healing that can only be obtained by them being merciful toward the very person who they feel harmed them. So it is only the merciful who obtain mercy from and thus for themselves in their earthly life, although God is always merciful toward them.