Becoming More Merciful
by Ray DeGraw
[On Sundays this year we are publishing a series from Ray that focuses on the Sermon on the Mount, analyzing each characteristic of godliness found in Matthew 5-7. Essay 1, Essay 2, Essay 3, Essay 4, Essay 5, Essay 6, Essay 7, Essay 8.]
First, from the Bible Dictionary:
Mercy is not defined in the Bible Dictionary, but Mercy Seat is, and the definition provides some interesting points of consideration. The definition says:
The golden covering of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. It was the place of the manifestation of God’s glory and his meeting place with his people (Ex. 25: 22; Lev. 16: 2; Num. 7: 89); and was regarded as the Throne of God (cf. Ex. 30: 6). Here the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled on the day of Atonement (Lev. 16: 14-15).
About the Ark of the Covenant, the description includes the following:
It was the oldest and most sacred of the religious symbols of the Israelites, and the Mercy Seat which formed its covering was regarded as the earthly dwelling place of Jehovah . . . The usual resting place of the Ark was in the Holy of Holies. (Also called Most Holy Place. The most sacred room in the tabernacle and, later, in the temple as contrasted with the Holy Place.)
So, the Mercy Seat was seen as the place where Israel’s God lived while he visited His people, housed within the Most Holy room in the temple, and sprinkled with the blood that symbolized the Atonement.
This means that mercy is connected intimately with the Atonement, is associated with how God manifests his glory and represents how He meets us. Frankly, my mind was spinning a bit when I first came to this realization, as I had not considered this type of definition previously.
Next, from dictionary.com, the definitions of mercy that best fit the scriptural foundation of the Mercy Seat are:
1) leniency and compassion shown toward offenders by a person or agency charged with administering justice;
2) Forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it.
The opposite of mercy is justice, which is “the administering of deserved punishment or reward.” (I have come to believe that justice and mercy are opposite sides of the same coin – the yin and yang of divinity, if you will. That is not for this post, however.)
From these definitions, it appears to me that the Mercy Seat was so named to make it obvious to the House of Israel that their interaction with God was conditioned on His willingness to not treat them as they deserved to be treated – to share His glory with them, even though it was not theirs to have naturally – to “forgive them their trespasses” and dwell with them even in their fallen and undeserving state.
As a foundation, therefore, if I am to be more merciful (acting with mercy) in a Godlike manner, at the most fundamental level, I must bridle my natural reactions to punish or administer justice when people do not measure up to what I believe they should do and treat them better than I believe they deserve to be treated. It is important to note, just as with the other characteristics I have been striving to develop, that this might be grounded in feeling and understanding, but in order to be truly internalized it must extend to action, to becoming more merciful by acting more mercifully.
As a final note, this applies every bit as much, if not more, to online interactions, with their shield of anonymity, as it does to face-to-face interactions.