An Aversion to Mercy

Agree or disagree? All human beings have an aversion to mercy.

If we have made an honest mistake, or are caught in a sin red-handed, we hope that others will be merciful to us. We are not averse to receiving mercy when we know that we really deserve punishment.

Typically we are not averse to giving mercy to someone who is clearly hurt or grieving. A little child crying over a scraped knee or a friend weeping over a broken relationship elicits genuine concern and mercy from our hearts.

Despite those realities, though, I would argue that more often than not, all of us have a deep aversion to mercy. Why? Because mercy implies–even requires–helplessness, and no one wants to be helpless. A convicted murderer is “at the mercy” of the judge–and his life hangs on what that judge decides. A mountain climber caught in a sudden storm is “at the mercy” of that storm–all his well-laid plans are overturned by the urgency of getting out alive. To be “at the mercy” of someone or something means that we have no power to bring about what we most desire.

To need mercy is to need help, and that admission of need goes against our most basic bent of autonomy from God and from others. Thus we push against it–we are averse to it. If we can somehow prove that we deserve the help, then we can live with that…but that’s merit, not mercy. Or if we could figure out how to help ourselves, we would be comfortable with that…but that’s competency, not mercy either.

We tend to be much more comfortable listing off all the reasons why God should give us what we desire, than we are with crying out “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). It seems we need God’s mercy even to call out for mercy from Him.


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