I’ve been thinking quite a bit about mercy lately…. Possibly because it seems that I require more than most people! Whatever the reason, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts.
Since the beginning, God has shown mercy to the people he created. The Bible is tearing at the seams with stories that demonstrate this fact. I want to just talk about the first two for now.
The first time that I see this mercy in action is in the Garden of Eden. After God assembles Adam and Eve out of dust and bone respectively, He lays down some ground rules… well, only one actually. I paraphrase: “Don’t eat from that tree. You know, that one in the middle of the Garden. Eat from it, and you’re gonna die. Period.” (Gen 2:16-17)
So, what do Adam and Eve do? You guessed it! Long story short, they eat from the ONE TREE that God instructed them not to eat from. Incredibly though, they don’t die. In fact, they don’t die for a long long time. Sure, when God comes to the Garden and “finds” them dressed in leaves, He’s upset, and they have to pay some hefty consequences, but God showed some incredible mercy by allowing them to live.
Sticking with Adam and company, let’s take a look at the second real act of mercy that I love in Genesis. Fast forward a number of years and Adam and Eve have two boys: Cain and Abel. Cain’s the oldest son and grows up helping his parents with the farming aspect of their new outside-of-the-Garden life. Hard work, paying the price of your parents’ sins. (Think about it.) Abel, the younger of the two, grows up tending to the livestock.
Now that the stage is set, let’s get on with the story. There comes a day when Cain and Abel make sacrifices to God. (It’s important to remember here that we don’t have any record of rules or regulations being put in place regarding sacrifices like we do later when God spells it out for Moses and Co.) So, what do they do? They each bring the best of what they’ve got – the first fruits of their (very hard) labor. Cain brings his best grain, and Abel brings the best from his stable. For some reason, God respects Abel’s offering, and pretty much disses Cain’s. (Gen 4:3-5) Cool side note: Some scholars interpret the “respect” shown here to mean that God gave a visual sign of His approval like He does later by consuming the Israelites’ sacrifices by fire.
Well, Cain looses his cool. I can imagine him saying, “Seriously, God? I work just as hard as Abel! And I brought you the best that I’ve got! What about this offering isn’t good enough?! Heck, it’s not even my fault that I have to work out here in this awful heat! Abel gets a fireworks display for his stupid lamb, and I get absolutely nothing?!” God simply replies (again, a paraphrase), “Look, if you do good, you’ll be accepted. Don’t do good, you won’t. Pretty simple concept. But, you better get it together, or sin is gonna get the best of you.” (Gen 4:6-7)
At this point, Cain is still in the clear. All he has to do is learn from his mistake, and do better next time. But, despite this explicit warning from the Creator, Cain keeps coppin’ an attitude. Rather than accepting the fact that what God wants from us sometimes doesn’t exactly make sense to us – He’s God, we’re not – and that sometimes we have to suck it up, and realize that we’re not necessarily always right. Cain gets so mad, and so jealous, that he actually kills his own brother. Walks up to him in a field. And kills him. (I always imagine him using a sickle or something from out of his garden).
Ok, now let’s forward to Cain and God’s conversation after the murder. (I’m sure you already know, but again, I’m paraphrasing)
God says, “Hey, uh, Cain. Where’s your brother?”
“Beats me, God. Didn’t know it was my turn to watch him…”
“Cain, you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. You’re in really big trouble.”
I know I’m approaching this a bit lightheartedly, but God was really serious when He was laying out Cain’s punishment. He pretty much told Cain that he was doomed. Nothing that he touched would prosper – in fact, the opposite! The ground that Cain relied on for his livelihood would now be tainted by his brother’s blood, and would never yield good crops for him again. Also, Cain would be banished from his homestead and be sentenced to life as a homeless wanderer.
Here’s the crazy part to me: Even after the horrible, shameful thing he’d done, Cain still has the audacity to ask God for mercy! He yells, “NO!! Please, God, no! I can’t take that punishment! It’s too much… way too much! The first person that finds me is gonna kill me! Please have mercy!” And you know what? God does. God changes his mind, and extends mercy to Cain. He places a mark on Cain so that people don’t kill him. (Gen 4:13-15)
What an inspiring story, right?! Maybe it just touches me because I remind myself so much of Cain. So many times I think I can reason myself right. I think that I can force logic to redeem me. In my head, I’ve got the “right” answer, and I think I know what God wants out of my life.
So many times, though, I’m dead wrong… and that ticks me off! “Why, God?! I’m working just as hard as everyone else to give you what I do best!” But God seems to say, “Eric, I didn’t ask for what you do best. Right now, I just asked you to be faithful in the choir.” (I could use any number of examples, but this one is especially difficult for me.) Or He says, “Eric, you aren’t feeling peace, you’re not earning my respect, because you’re not doing what I wanted. Do good, and you’ll be accepted. Don’t, and you won’t. Simple concept.”
No, I haven’t gotten jealous enough to physically kill someone. But I’ve had a bad attitude. What’s the difference? Sin is sin. Period. I’m just as guilty as Cain. And for Adam, Eve, Cain, and everybody else, the wages of sin is death. But for some reason, God changed his mind for me. Later down the road from Cain and Abel, Christ came to Earth. He took on the sins of mankind, and took the punishment for us. He died so that I wouldn’t have to.
I still mess up. But when I do, I know that I can ask for mercy, and He’ll give it to me.
I have a sneaky suspicion that He’ll do it for you too, if you ask.