What does that mean?
When we’ve been wronged, we want justice. We want to feel vindicated in our victimhood. We want someone in authority to comfort us, to assure us that wrongs don’t go unpunished, to re-establish our sense of safety and security while we are living among others.
We want to know that when people hurt us, they won’t get away with it.
We need justice to feel safe. We desire judgment against wrongs in order to continue hoping that there’s more than evil in the world. Trust that good things can still happen and bad things don’t go unavenged is what enables us to face the world each day.
So why should we show mercy?
Mercy teaches evil-doers that it’s okay to keep on doing evil. Mercy teaches them that it’s okay keep on hurting others. Mercy teaches them that there will be no consequences to their actions.
Mercy breaks the cycle of injustice.
I spent most of my life believing others mattered and I didn’t. I let people treat me how they wanted because I thought it was a sin to stand up for myself. (It’s not, by the way.) I wasted years of my life allowing other people to trample down my heart, my soul, and my dreams. I allowed bullies to oppress me until I finally lost control and did things I regret.
Now I’m finally learning I have value. I have worth. I live in a safe place and no one is allowed to hurt me here.
But because I spent so many years allowing my own opinions, feelings, and thoughts to be devalued constantly by others, I have a tendency to be self-focused. I felt like my own needs were never met when I was younger because I was so busy meeting others’ needs. Doing whatever it took to make them happy or at least keep them from getting angry. (Even though the unhappy people still remained unhappy and the angry people still got angry.) So now I sometimes over-value my own thoughts. Sometimes I refuse to hear what others have to say. I’m not flexible. I don’t do what other people want. I do what I want and reject ideas that I’m not interested in.
I feel entitled to be selfish because I felt devalued my whole life.
Is this okay?
No. It’s absolutely not.
I’m continuing the cycle of injustice, using my own experience as an excuse.
In his New York Times article “Sad Legacy of Abuse: The Search for Remedies,” Daniel Goleman says,
Studies also now indicate that about one-third of people who are abused in childhood will become abusers themselves.
One reason his article explores is the difference between whether children internalize the lie that they deserve the abuse or not. Children who accepted the lie that they were inherently “bad” and needed to be punished in order to become “good” tended not to recognize that abuse was abuse, thus increasing their likelihood to perpetuate the problem with their own children.
But there is also a more insidious factor at work. Steven Stosny, Ph.D., discusses victim identity in his article “The Line between Victims and Abusers”:
Victim identity is focus on damages suffered at the hands of other people. The desire to be identified as a victim creates a sense of entitlement and a motive to devalue anyone who does not offer special recognition and validation of victim status or compensation for it.
When we focus on the wrongs and injustices committed against us, we become focused on our own entitlement. We feel like we deserve better treatment because of what we’ve suffered. We feel like we don’t need to show compassion because we did our time and paid our dues.
A focus on what other people have done to us leads to a selfish, loveless life that perpetuates the cycle of mistreatment.
In our efforts to protect our own needs, we end up devaluing the needs of others and committing the same acts of injustice that were committed against us.
What is the cure?
Mercy breaks the cycle.
Instead of perpetrating against others the crimes committed against us, we can choose to set aside our needs and serve others.
Jesus had every right to call down fire from heaven and bring judgment against those who crucified Him. A great deal of injustice was committed against Him and He had done nothing wrong. He could have made that injustice His identity and He would have been perfectly justified in ordering humanity’s destruction.
But He didn’t. Instead He said,
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
When we choose mercy over judgment, we are placing our trust in “the One Who is able to keep us from falling away, who will bring us with great joy into His glorious presence without a single fault.”
In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul says:
“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”
We are trusting that God has our backs and we don’t have to play judge, jury, and executioner because God will take care of things.
Paul talks about this in Romans 12:17-21, when he illustrates that mercy is in fact a weapon that can be used to destroy evil:
“Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
‘I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,’
says the Lord.
‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.’
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”
When you choose to forgive and to honor others even when they have mistreated you, you are defeating evil.
That evil has no authority over you.
When we choose, by an act of our will, to lay down our right to be well-treated, we aren’t becoming doormats. We are exercising our authority – given by God – over our own lives and choosing to extend to someone else the love that covers over a multitude of sins.
Jesus, Who had never committed a wrong but chose to die so that we wouldn’t have to suffer for our wrongs, said:
“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
Why did Jesus have to die?
He could have left us wallowing in our sin. He could have left us to receive what we deserved.
But God knew that only self-sacrificing mercy would bring salvation to the world.
God knew the power of laying your life down so that evil could be overcome.
No one has the right to mistreat you. No one has the right to abuse you.
But you don’t have to be a slave to the things others have done. Your life doesn’t need to be defined by what’s been done to you.
Your identity is not to be a victim.
Your identity is to be an overcomer.
Every time another person wrongs you, you are placed in a position of great power. Will you perpetuate the cycle of injustice, or will you overcome evil for good?
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Join the Discussion
Have you ever been the recipient of this kind of sacrificial mercy? What was its impact on your life?