God is merciful in that He possesses the attribute of mercy. Like all God's attributes, His mercy is infinite, unlimited, and eternal. The Hebrew and Greek words translated "mercy" mean compassion, lovingkindness, and pity. God's mercy is shed upon those who need it. Human beings are born with a sin nature and, instead of justly condemning us, God is merciful in that He withholds the punishment we deserve and shows compassion and pity toward us. Mercy is the withholding of a just condemnation.
Throughout the Bible, God gives many illustrations of His mercy. God showed mercy to Lot and his daughters, allowing them to leave Sodom before it was destroyed (Genesis 19:14–16). God's compassionate mercy was on display in His rescuing the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land (Exodus 15:13). God was merciful to Israel in captivity (Psalm 106:45; Nehemiah 9:31). God's mercy was illustrated every year on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice before the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:14).
Mercy is often coupled with other attributes of God in the Bible: His grace, "You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Psalm 86:15); His forgiveness, "To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him" (Daniel 9:9); and His goodness, "Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" (Psalm 25:7).
The steadfast love of God is combined with His mercy in Ephesians 2:4–5: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—". God's mercy toward sinners is rooted in His love for us. As those who are dead in sin, we deserve punishment (Romans 3:23). God's righteousness requires just punishment for sin. If it did not, He wouldn't be holy. Out of His love and mercy, but also to satisfy His justice and display His holiness, He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin (John 3:16). The perfect sinless incarnate Christ died the sinner's death so that sinners could live free from condemnation (Romans 8:1), all as a result of God's merciful love.
In the New Testament, God's mercy is illustrated in the parable of the rich ruler who was owed a great deal of money (Matthew 18:23–27). The ruler ordered that money be collected, but when the debtor came and begged for mercy, the ruler mercifully forgave the debt. The parable illustrates the debt of sin we owe to God, so great a debt that we could never repay it. But because God is merciful, He freely forgives us that debt in Christ. After having been forgiven the debt, the person who owed the money refuses to forgive someone else. The ruler then judged that ungrateful person for his lack of mercy. God requires us to be merciful and forgiving to others here on earth (Matthew 6:14–15; 18:21–22). We who have been forgiven so much have no right to withhold forgiveness from others. We are to be merciful to others because God has been merciful to us.
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