Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mercy... a different view

I was reading some stuff recently that suggested that what the Bible has to say about "mercy" was a bit different to how I / everyone typically think of it.

This argued that the word "mercy" used in the Bible refers to an appeal for family support. An honourable person helped and aided members of their family, and failing to do so was dishonourable. Hence a person who is in need can ask for mercy from members of their family (or pseudo-family). Thus an important part of getting mercy from someone could be to persuade them that they were in your pseudo-family and thus obligated to help you out of concern for their own honour. (eg "You are a fellow Israelite, have mercy on me!")

Today we think of mercy as an unobligated kindness given usually to strangers of the goodness of your heart. However, if we accept the above suggestions, strangers weren't even eligible for "mercy", and the whole point of mercy was that there was an obligation to give it.


Blogger Anaru said...

As I mentioned to you recently that lines up with what I have been reading.

I have heard sermons on Mercy which have you being kind to complete strangers. While there is a place for acts of random kindness it seems that such sermons have distorted the biblical definition of mercy to a considerable extent.

The same sermon also suggested Mercy was 'the next step up' from Grace in a ‘scale of kindness’. Any thoughts on the relationship between Mercy and Grace?

Blogger Jim said...

I like the definition of mercy being not treating you badly, even though you deserve it

and grace being treating you nicely even though you don't deserve it.

These definitions are not the result of biblical exposition or in depth research, but ust me thinking about what I think the words should mean and how I would use them...

and based upon a standard evangelical paradigm where God saves us from sin and punishment we deserve (ie.. shows mercy to us)
and invites us into heaven, shares his riches with us, even though we are unworthy (extends grace to us)

Blogger Jared said...

I agree in part. This account does give a perspective on how the concept of mercy worked in biblical times. However, this does not negate the fact that the concept of mercy itself might be something more than just doing good to whom you love and have kinship ties to. I think God would like us to see all humans as our kin and therefore we have a responsiblity for them and their situation. We are obligated to show them mercy.

Blogger Andrew said...

Yes, it should be noted that whatever the Bible means by "mercy" doesn't necessarily apply to us, nor out usage of the word "mercy". Perhaps however, translations would do better to translate the term "family obligation" or somesuch rather than "mercy"?

eg if the Bible's "mercy" is looking after your family and had nothing to do with caring about strangers, it doesn't mean we can ignore strangers just because "that's what the word meant in ancient times".

Indeed, I understand the thrust of Jesus message to be that we should care about strangers, especially those that no one else cares about. That was the point of the early Christians calling each other "brothers" and inviting social outcasts into their group. Jesus deliberately formed a group which provided a family for those who had no family.


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