Monday, March 29, 2010

How Big is God's Mercy?

Earlier today I read a beautiful post on facebook. It was written by a woman who had recently lost her father. At the funeral she had chosen to read the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. The parable talks about how God rewards those who care for people in unfortunate circumstances. She went on to share a story about a time when her father went out of his way to care for people in need.

The subject of this post is not that story, but one of the comments it provoked.

In the comments below the post, one person felt the need to remind this woman that the real reason why her father is saved is because he believed in Jesus.

This comment bugged me for a few reasons. First of all, the comment implies that having faith and being a good person are two completely separate and unrelated things. Secondly, the comment asserts that having faith is more important than being a good person.

The thing that bothered me the most, however, was that it felt like the commenter was putting limits on the mercy of God.

Anyone can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, or visit people in prison; they don't need to believe that Jesus is Lord. On the other hand, if you really believe that Jesus is Lord, then you should be doing the things he told you to do. Otherwise, why do you call him Lord? Why should we expect God to have mercy on people who claim to follow him, but don't do what he says, and reject people who do what he asks, but don't claim to follow him?

This is a difficult topic, and I don't have all the answers. But there is one thing I will say. If there's one thing that the New Testament shows us clearly, it's that God's mercy was much bigger than people expected it to be. We can try to put limits on God's mercy, but I wouldn't expect him to abide by them.

As a final note, I don't think Christians realize how these statements sound to unbelievers. When you tell people, "The thing that really matters to God is whether or not you believe in him," most of the time they don't think, "Oh, well I suppose I should believe in God, then." Usually they think, "I guess your God only cares about you." The truth is that God cares about everyone. We need to make sure that people know that God cares about them whether they believe in him or not.


  1. Thorny indeed. The comment about the thing that matters being belief above action is true, but only in the most narrow of definitions of faith. I get a little worked up when peeps of "faith" go around only preaching a narrow selection of the Gospel (good news). Sure eternal salvation is great, but, honestly, that isn't why I FOLLOW Jesus.

    I FOLLOW Jesus because there is actual purpose and power in what I do. What I can do on my own is pretty pitiful as far as making a change in a very very broken world. But working in partnership with the Author of Life, means my actions on behalf of others and the world actually have some staying power. I'm gonna live for what, another 60 years? But doing the work of the Eternal One, on His behalf, for His Kingdom, means that I'm helping to build something that will outlast all things. Something that will bless, and serve, and provide, and heal, and make right, and make just, and make whole for All Time.

    And when my efforts on His behalf are multiplied by God's grace and provision, then there is actual hope for change. Real, substantive, effectual change. For the better. For life. For all time.

    My faith is why I do these things. Doing these things is why I have faith.

    Faith without action, without life-giving action, is dead. It's not faith. It's something. It's not faith.

  2. Sorry for taking so long to respond to this.

    I've been wrestling with this issue for awhile now. What bugged me about the comment wasn't so much that it put faith above works, but that it seemed to be saying that we could have faith instead of doing works.

    It's great to say that we're saved by faith, but that truth doesn't nullify the sheep-goats parable. Scripture shouldn't be used to annihilate scripture like that. Our understanding of salvation by faith can affect our understanding of the sheep-goats parable, but it can't render it meaningless. If we think it does, then that's a clear sign that we're misunderstanding scripture.