Mercy is what God does for us. Mercy discounts the economic sense of love and faith and care for a person and lives out of a divine sense of love instead. Mercy gives a human being who does not "deserve" love, love. And why? Because, the Scriptures answer, God know of what we are made.
The fact is that we are all made of the same thing: clay, the dust of the earth, the frail, fragile, shapeless thing from which we come and to which we will all return some day. We are all capable of the same things. Our only hope is that when we are all sitting somewhere bereft, exposed, outcast, humiliated and rejected by the rest of society, someone, somewhere will "reach out a hand and lift us up."
Mercy is the trait of those who realize their own weakness enough to be kind to those who are struggling with theirs. It is, as well, the measure of the God-life in us.
Beware those who show no mercy. They are dangerous people because they have either not faced themselves or are lying to themselves about what they find there. "We are all sinners," we say, and then smile the words away. But the essayist Montaigne was clear about it: "There is no one so good," he wrote, "who, were they to submit all their thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in life."
It is our very weaknesses that enable us to understand the power, the necessity of mercy.
The Sufi mystic Mishkat al-Masabaih reminds us, when we are overwhelmed by our own inadequacies, our own diversions from the straight paths of life, that the mercy of God is always greater than the sin of being too humanly human. He writes:
She who approaches near to Me one span, I will approach near to her one cubit; and she who approaches near to Me one cubit, I will approach near to her one fathom; and whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to her running; and she who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet her with forgiveness equal to it.
The mercy we show to others is what assures us that we do not need to worry about being perfect ourselves. All we really need to do is to make the effort to be the best we can be, knowing we will often fail. Then, the mercy of others, the mercy of God is certain for us, as well. "The only thing we can offer to God of value," St. Catherine of Siena said, "is to give our love to people as unworthy of it as we are of God's love."
This post is adapted from my book God's Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness (Twenty-Third Publications).