May 31, 2013

Biblical Mercy vs. the Lottery

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter,Theology - Soteriology :: Permalink

Benne Holwerda, commenting on the phrase in 1 Peter 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy, rebegot us…”:

When we think of mercy, we think of “compassion.”  Mercy we show to the sick and destitute and needy.  And the biblical word undeniably does have that element.  But it is also much more.

If a beggar comes to your door, then you can give that man something, but you can also leave him alone.  In other words, he never knows beforehand whether he will receive anything.  You do not have the obligation to sacrifice, and therefore such a person’s existence is absolutely uncertain: he never knows what he can count on.

And there lies the difference between the biblical word and its present-day meaning.  In the Bible, too, mercy has to do with compassion to which God is not bound and which we ourselves have forfeited.  But with regard to this mercy, we need never to be in doubt, because God has obligated Himself to it.

Actually one can best render the content of this word by “covenant faithfulness.”   And — isn’t it true? — in a covenant one always knows where one stands: If the element of faithfulness remains firm, one can count on the mercy!  Scholars have demonstrated this sense of “mercy” in Scripture.  To give one quotation: “God’s mercy is based on the covenant, whereby He freely takes upon Himself obligations toward His people, so that the pious can call upon God’s mercy; in this connection one must keep in view that it is always the mercy that God has promised, on which one thus cannot make a claim but which one can still expect.  The idea of mercy and of covenant belong together!”

Naturally I do not mean to deal with the term “covenant” here. But I do believe that there is so much doubt about God’s grace because many no longer (want to) know about the covenant.  We would hope in the mercy of God if only we believed in His holy covenant!  But many speak and think about the mercy of God as a lottery: you only have a chance!  The only way we can expect improvement here is if we no longer isolate the one from the other, but allow everything — and thus also the mercy of God — to stand in the framework of the covenant in which Scripture places it. — Benne Holwerda, “’According to His Mercy Reborn’ (1 Peter 1:3b),” De wijsheid die behoudt (my translation and slight paraphrase).

Posted by John Barach @ 12:02 pm | Discuss (9)

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