Scripture Focus: 1 Timothy 1.13-14
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Our Merciless Culture
By John Tillman

The mercy and forgiveness offered to Paul is staggering, scandalous, and in our own time, practically impossible.

One of the least Christian things about American culture today is how we feel about forgiveness and mercy. We frown at forgiveness in general, but to forgive someone who harmed you or to forgive someone outside one’s tribe or group, is anathema. If you want to be an outcast, forgive someone outside your political party, your race, or your gender.

Every culture is a bit cynical about mercy and repentance. Reasonable skepticism is justifiable. Even the apostles didn’t accept Paul until Barnabas spoke up for him. The type of mercy extended to Paul and many others in scripture would never be tolerated or allowed today. 

Our culture has become anti-mercy, going past skepticism and walking into the wilderness of hatred and retributive violence. In recent years, when people have offered public forgiveness to individuals that everyone agreed did not deserve it, our world wouldn’t tolerate it. We are opposed to forgiveness. We go beyond refusing to forgive—we label forgiveness and mercy, not just foolish, but evil.

A culture that is invested in and glorifies hatred, retribution, payback, and vengeance cannot allow an act of mercy to stand as a simple act of mercy. It must be critiqued and spun. Media and pundits immediately will attempt to twist it, politicize it, and discount it.

Our world is desperate to explain away Christian forgiveness as something else. It must be enabling evil. It must be the result of racism. It must be a naive and foolish gesture. It must be anything other than Christian, gospel forgiveness. Never that.

Otherwise, we might be forced to set down our weapons of vengeance. Otherwise, we might be forced to question our treasured value of total war against our ideological enemies. Otherwise, we might have to abandon our “ends justify the means” political machinations. Otherwise, we might be forced to admit we need mercy ourselves.

Our world would like to pretend that it hates mercy because it cares for victims. But it requires it’s victims to stay victims, suffering eternally. Healing or restoration doesn’t fuel hatred, only pain does. Our culture’s interest in victims is only as fuel for hatred. Our world hates mercy because it loves hate.

As Christians, we must defeat hate by truly caring for victims and by forgiving in shocking and scandalous ways.

*Forgiveness and mercy does not mean abandoning the pursuit of justice through the law. It also does not mean asking victims to be quiet or to stop sharing their pain and their stories. For a short brush up on the tension between forgiveness and justice, see this Veritas Forum video with Rachael Denhollander.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
…You have showed me great troubles and adversities, but you will restore my life and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth…
…My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm. — Psalm 71.20, 24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 4 (Listen – 6:17)
1 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:37)

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As permissive as our supposedly modern culture is, we are remarkably tribal about mercy.

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There is, perhaps, no commandment of Jesus that we flout with more impunity than, “do good to those who hate you.”