Excerpts from Chapter 5

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

How to Sweeten the Days and Years


Mercy is a unique, marvelous, exceptional word. God’s mercy means his kindness, patience, and forgiveness toward us. It is his compassionate willingness to suffer for and with sinners for their ultimate good.

In the Bible, mercy weds the severe obligation of justice with the warmth of personal relationship. Mercy explains how a holy and loving God can relate to sinners without compromising who he is. God doesn’t thump his chest and parade this attribute, as if it’s unique to him but unattainable by us. He gives it to us freely, a gift to pass along. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Before we were Christians, we weren’t neutral or ambivalent toward God, we were against God, we were his enemies (Romans 5:10), destined for wrath as willing followers of the devil himself (Ephesians 2:1-3). That’s a pretty grim picture. But God chose to respond to us, his enemies, in love. That is mercy. That is the reality of the cross Christians have experienced. That is the example for us to follow.

This also raises some important questions for sinners who say, “I do.” Do you know God as a God of mercy? Do you see your spouse as God sees him or her—through eyes of mercy?

If your answer to either question is no, it is unlikely that your marriage is sweet. Mercy sweetens marriage. Where it is absent, two people flog one another over everything from failure to fix the faucet to phone bills. But where it is present, marriage grows sweeter and more delightful, even in the face of challenges, setbacks, and the persistent effects of our remaining sin.

Kimm loves coffee. Actually, she would say her desire sped past love years ago and now qualifies as an obsession. But I’m happy to say she’s no trembling caffeine addict. She only drinks decaf. What she loves most about coffee is the taste and the experience—a warm cup and warm conversation to go with it. To me, that’s still an obsession, even if it is an endearing one.

I’m more of a tea guy. My friends consider tea to be feminine, but I don’t think hard enough in the morning to ask gender questions of my breakfast drink. I’m just glad to have the right shoes on the right feet. And I like my tea sweet. Splenda, Sweet’N Low, Equal . . . it doesn’t matter. Just back up the truck and dump it in. A sweetener works its magic by taking what is bitter and making it sweet. Like the sweetener in my tea, mercy changes the flavor of relationships. Mercy sweetens the bitterness out of relationships—especially marriage. So just back up the truck and dump the mercy in.

Pass it Along

Have you ever thought that passing along God’s mercy may be one of the main reasons you’re married? Think about it like this: Marriage is a place where two sinners become so connected that all the masks come off. It’s not only that we sometimes put on our best faces in public, it’s that when we’re married we see each other in all kinds of situations, including some very difficult ones. All the wonderful diversity (in this case, a polite word for our personal quirks, weaknesses, and sin patterns) that was kept refined and subdued before the wedding tumbles out of the closet after the honeymoon. We begin to see each other as we really are—raw, uncensored, and in Technicolor. If our eyes are open, we discover wonderful things about our spouses that we never knew were there. We also discover more of the other person’s weaknesses. It’s no wonder that Martin Luther called marriage “the school of character.”  Without mercy, differences become divisive, sometimes even “irreconcilable.” But deep, profound differences are the reality of every marriage. It’s not the presence of differences but the absence of mercy that makes them irreconcilable. How many sinners who say, “so long” would remain as lovers who said, “I do” if they understood the place of mercy in marriage?

Last Christmas, Kimm received a friendship ball. That’s a Christmas ornament filled with potpourri and other fragrant stuff guys don’t tend to notice. My wife explained that a friendship ball is given as a gift, but it’s expected that once enjoyed, it will be passed along. It is to be re-given. The point is not only to receive it but transfer it.

That’s an example of what to do with mercy. It’s to be received, enjoyed, celebrated . . . but then it must be passed along. The Father offered mercy to us so that we might share it. How do we become sharers of mercy? It doesn’t happen by accident.

Mercy in Real-Time

Sweet marriages are built on mercy dispensed. A wife is locked in a cycle of complaining; a husband seems paralyzed by self-pity. Luke 6 changes how we approach them. Rather than using the old recipe (pour accusation into conversation, add a cup of defensiveness, stir with angry glances, heat at increasing volume, repeat often), we use the new organic recipe: Magnificent Mercy!

Mercy doesn’t change the need to speak truth. It transforms our motivation from a desire to win battles to a desire to represent Christ. It takes me out of the center and puts Christ in the center. This requires mercy.

Mercy takes people who are capable of open warfare over toothpaste tubes and toilet seats, and enlarges their vision to include a Savior. Mercy confronts a sinner wrapped in self-pity and protected by pride and shows him the way out of the darkness into the light. Mercy inspires us to move beyond “the power and government of self-love” back to the nobler and benevolent principles of our new nature.

We’re not only sinners; we are also the objects of other people’s sin. We have enemies, people who don’t like us, who abuse us, who make unreasonable demands of us. People who treat us how they want to without consideration of our feelings. In Luke 6, Christ is relating some pretty distressing details about life.

For many reading this book, I can hear the question, “Yes, but Luke 6 hardly describes my marriage. After all, enemies don’t get married. Men don’t propose to women they hate. People who curse and abuse each other aren’t typically gazing into each other’s eyes and whispering “I do.” What does this passage have to do with marriage?”

Everything—because Christ is showing the comprehensive reach of mercy. By addressing  grievous scenarios, he is setting the bar for normal life. He is saying, “Okay, now on to mercy. Let’s move right to the egregious cases—such as your enemies, those who hate and curse and strike and abuse you—because when you know how to deal with committed enemies, you’ll know how to deal with occasional enemies. When you can extend mercy to the spiteful, violent, selfish, and wicked, you can extend it to those who annoy, ignore, or disappoint you.”

Now before I go any further, I need to speak to a very specific situation—safety in an abusive marriage. There are situations where the violent or abusive behavior of a spouse (and let’s be frank, this overwhelmingly applies to men) puts the safety of the other spouse or children at risk. In these cases, sadly occurring even in Christian homes, the need to separate an abuser from those he abuses is imperative, and is in fact an expression of mercy in the situation. It not only protects innocent parties, it mercifully gives a person trapped in violent sin the opportunity to face themselves, repent, and change. I know of men whose greatest expressions of thankfulness to God are because of how he arrested their lives with the interdicting mercy of a courageous spouse, friend, or pastor.

Mercy is given to be shared. And what it touches, it ultimately sweetens. We are to pass along what we have received from God—steadfast love, inexplicable kindness, overflowing compassion. We sinned against God and he responded with mercy. We are called to go and do the same.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 7


Get Adobe Flash player