Read an Excerpt
Mary Karr, in her memoir The Liars Club, tells of a Texas uncle who, after a fight with his wife, remained married to her yet did not speak to her for forty years. He thought she spent too much money on sugar. He sawed their house down the middle and moved his half several yards away. He gave new meaning to the term halfway house.
Upon telling this story, Philip Yancey points out,
Forgiveness offers a way out. It does not settle all questions . . . but it does allow a relationship to start over, to begin anew. In that way, said Solzhenitsyn, we differ from all animals. Not our capacity to think, but our capacity to repent and to forgive makes us different. Only humans can perform that most unnatural act, which transcends the relentless law of nature.
Now note his counsel: If we do not transcend nature, we remain bound to the people we cannot forgive, held in their vise grip. The man sawed the house in half ! Over money spent on sugar! This shows the desperate efforts of some to retaliate, to do harm. But in reality, the greatest harm was to himself. We must change this dominant spiritual gene found in each of us.
A World without Mercy
Americas condition is not declining simply because violence, greed, and immorality moved in but because forgiveness, grace, and mercy moved out. Her churches are not dwindling because they lack the creative juices to effectively market their cause. Its because we have been just as indignant as the world we are trying to save. We have failed the call of Jesus to love our enemies as we do our friends. Stinging words and snobbish attitudes have driven the masses from the house of God to live on the streets of a cold and loveless world.
Harsh and stubborn responses have deterred many a softening heart from giving in and making up. Pride refuses to say the simplest things like, Im sorry or Please, would you forgive me? or I was wrong. Independence has convinced us, at times, that we need no one. We do think we are better off as islands.
Indeed, many have made concerted efforts to make a difference for good. Money has been contributed. Foundations have been forged. Humanitarianism is abundant and deserves our applause and participation. Yet, tension increases, privacy fences abound, and individualism holds potential apologies and reunions at bay.
The Choice to Be Merciful
Yet, there is hope. For all the isolation of the information age, it does offer vast choices. Everywhere, from automobiles to cereals to deodorants, choice is abundant. Its up to me to decide how I will respond to the wars raging within and without me. I choose. And oftentimes, choice is based on what I believe about the circumstances in my life. William Backus and Marie Chapian wrote in Telling Yourself the Truth, In emotional and mental health, what you believe is all important. . . . Other people, circumstances, events and material things are not what make you happy. What you believe about these things is what makes you happy or unhappy. Those three sentences changed my life. Whether or not I live a life of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy is up to me and no one else. I decide.
And some people are choosing the road less traveled. A global warming is taking place in the hearts of many. Reports of mended relationships, unearthly forgiveness, and surprising compassion are met with rave reviews. Talk shows and news reports gladly tell of victims who walk a higher road by refusing to hold on to bitterness and anger toward personal offenders. Many believers are tired of being mean. Preachers are tired of being loud and abrasive. The blessings that result are divine.
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon were on to something when they wrote, Our everyday experience of life in the congregation is training in the arts of forgiveness; it is everyday, practical confirmation of the truthfulness of the Christian vision.. Great hope is found in the determination to train in the art of forgiveness.
Training does not come from reading good books, however. It comes by being offended. This calls us to a kingdom style that not only works but also is work. Its one thing to talk the talk in Sunday school with lifeless flannel graph. Its another to walk the talk when a drunk runs over your son. The former requires nothing more than religious chatter. The latter exists only in a newly created person and originates in undaunted courage to love one so irresponsible. It calls for strength of characterother worldly strength. It calls for a characteristic that few dare to grapple with. It calls for the marvel of mercy.
The Marvel of Mercy
Mercy is what God is about. And its what we are to be about. The marvel of mercy lived out in everyday lives is every bit as powerful as a nuclear warhead. Even more so. But be warned. Mercys calling and demands may at times seem beyond reason. Dont sweat it. So is a nuclear warhead. But along with mercys high calling, God issues us the unequaled power required to live it out.
William Willimon tells a marvelous story about a college student ministering in the inner city of Philadelphia for a summer. Following is a paraphrase of that story:
The greenhorn hesitantly made his way off of the bus and onto the sidewalk of one of the worst looking housing projects in town. As he entered the huge, dark tenement he was first greeted by a horrible odor. Windows were out. No lights in the hall. He heard a baby crying and skeptically knocked on the door.
A woman holding a naked baby opened the door slightly. Disgruntled, she wanted to know what he wanted. Im here to tell you about Jesus. She cursed him all the way down the hall, down the steps, and out to the sidewalk.
The boy sat on the curb and cried.
Upon noticing a store on the corner, he recalled the baby had no diapers and that the woman was smoking. He bought a box of disposable diapers and a pack of cigarettes. With fierce trepidation the student made another trek up that memorable flight of stairs. Upon hearing the knock, the ill-tempered woman opened the door. He slid the box and the cigarettes across the threshold. She said, Come in, and then sternly, Sit down.
He fitted a diaper on the baby and, although he didnt smoke, did have a cigarette with her when she offered one. Eventually she asked what a nice boy like him was doing in a place like that. He told her everything he knew about Jesus . . . in about five minutes.
He later reported to his colleagues, I not only got to tell em about Jesus, I met Jesus. I went out to save somebody, and I ended up getting saved. I became a disciple.
Along with this naive college student, we can share in the marvel of mercybut only if we are willing to be involved in a most radical process. The cadence of mercy does not move to the rhythm of mediocrity. It cant, for it assumes we are in trouble. Mercy is the cure for injury. It does what we cant, and its tough too. Mercy is not about the trivial. Its about the unlikely and the impossible. Mercy will not hedge on the truth. It will not hear of playing politics. Its public relations firm consists only of an innocent Nazarene, who was willing to take on the guilt of the guilty by being suspended from a cross in enormous humiliation. Thats the marvel of mercy.
Answering the call of mercy is more than noble; its appealing. Its enticing to all who are weary of giving it their best shot only to end up with broken hearts and shattered dreams. We are fatigued from trying to repair one-sided relationships and lopsided goals. The worries, the discouragements, the anxieties . . . where can we go?
Hope for the Weary
If you find yourself embroiled in a domestic warthe sort that is every bit as intense as the Mideast conflictyou will like this book. If you are tired of living out bitterness, animosity, avoidance, hostility, and even cruel hatred, you hold in your hand artillery for fresh hope. If youre worn down over family or career conflict, take heart.
The goal of this book is to offer empty souls a brave and daring hope. If your mind continually rehearses wounds and injuries, get ready. You are about to become aware of one of the most outrageous, most scandalous, most improbable, impossible facets of Godmercy.
Brennan Manning declares the power of the message of God to crack open our world.
When the Gospel is preached with purity and power, it should force us to reassess the entire direction of our lives. The Word breaks our train of thought, cracks open our capsuled doctrine, shatters our life of comfortable piety and well-fed virtue. The flashing spirit of Jesus breaks new paths everywhere. The Gospel is no Pollyanna tale for the neutral but a cutting knife, rolling thunder, convulsive earthquake in the world of the human spirit.
May the knife be sharpened, may the thunder clap, may the earthquake rumble! May the marvel of mercy break our train of thought . . . that a miracle might capture our hearts once again.