Friday, April 26, 2013

On Mercy

I debated putting this post in the Old Testament Overtime series, but decided it's more about mercy at large, although I will be drawing mostly from the Old Testament.

And I know what you're thinking - there's not a lot of mercy in the Old Testament.  True.  Sort of.

The Old Testament law, the old covenant as many churches may call it, didn't make a lot of room for things like forgiveness or mercy.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a foot for a foot.  A stone for a sin.  A stoning for a big sin.  Unclean?  You're cut off.  Unfaithful?  You're cast out.  The Old Testament is full of places outside the camp for people who cannot be in the community for any number of reasons.  I'm not seeing a whole lot of mercy here.

The New Testament, the new covenant, the coming of Jesus, however, seems to make way for a great deal of mercy.  You give a man a chance.  You love your neighbor.  You embrace a sinner.  You guide him back.  You redeem someone.  You build them.  An eye for an eye?  Maybe.  But turn the other cheek.  Go the extra mile.  Give more than is taken.  It's mercy.

Some have even gone so far to say that where strict is the old law, mercy is the new law.  That Christ came in order to instill in us mercy and grace, and that this new law trumps the old rules.

Not so.

Because mercy has never been a law.  It has always been a gift.

And that includes in Old Testament times.

As God laid out His instructions for the Tent of Meeting (the Tabernacle), He gave Moses very specific plans for this very ornate box called the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was to hold the tablets inscribed with the law, a sacred and holy treasure chest of God's word and His promise.  His covenant.  The old covenant, with all of its rules and specifications and harsh penalties and seemingly no mercy.

On the top of the ark were to be carved two angels, or cherubim, with their wings outstretched to cover the Ark.  The space of the angels was called...the Throne of Mercy, and it was the place where God would come to judge His people.  It has been called God's Mercy Seat.  It is placed in the Holiest of Holies and is, indeed, the most holy place.  There, in the space of mercy on the top of the Ark, is the place where God's glory came in smoke and rested.  (Leviticus 16)

You can't make this up!

So you see, there was a place for mercy in the Old Testament.  A very prominent place, in fact.  A holy place.  And it is the same position mercy has always taken - just above the law.  

Ain't that the truth?  Isn't that the beautiful way mercy works?  It takes this law, this set of rules, and rests in an open space of grace just above it.  It meets you at the place where you have failed and where you face the strictest measure of your failure and it envelops something holy instead.  A second chance.  A sinner's redemption.  A new love.  Another cheek, an extra mile, a freewill offering.  Because it is a gift.

You don't have to worry about getting it right.  You don't have to worry about earning it.  You don't have to worry about what the law says because mercy is above the law.

In the space of the angels, in the holiest of holies, in the smoke that rises, God has come to give you mercy.


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