Bible Study

Group Study of Holy Scriptures

Love vs. Mercy


 Divine Love = Divine Mercy

I’d like to make a few comments on my last post, the excerpt from Simon Tugwell’s book, though perhaps you have already found it self-explanatory.

The first thing I appreciated about it was his insight into human psychology and behavior. We are quite complex beings, often rather maddeningly so, yet it is often difficult for us to refrain from judging others merely by appearances instead of seeking the deeper reasons why they speak or behave in the ways they do. But Tugwell situates our psychological dynamics in a spiritual reality. We play all our silly and destructive games ultimately because of original sin, because we are fallen people living in a fallen world, and we somehow feel the need desperately to cover up that inescapable fact.

But it’s not enough, evidently, simply to recognize the fact that we try to put on false faces before others and even before God. It’s a long and difficult road honestly to open ourselves both to God’s love for ourselves and to his invitation to share it with others. We are something like abused children who do not easily trust the loving advances of another, even if they are pure and sincere. So we probe and test and make it as difficult as possible for another (or Another) to love us. The following lines from Tugwell go a long way toward understanding why some people react as they do, and it rings true in my own experience in dealing with “problematic” people: “The ingrained habit of suspicion can test love only by hurting it. And deep distrust may have to inflict deep hurt before it can rest content.” I have seen this played out before my eyes, and it is extremely difficult to endure, and more difficult still to help the person see what he is really doing.

But what is most important, I think, for our own spiritual lives is not so much understanding the psychological dynamics of wounded people, but understanding how God’s love deals with us in our own woundedness. I will quote a couple paragraphs here from the excerpt so you don’t have to scroll back:

“But here also is the ultimate test of God’s love. In Christ, God provokes man to do his very worst; and he continues to love. Here, then, is a love which has demonstrated that it does not flinch even when we do our worst. It is a love which can absorb our pathological drive to probe and wound. ‘He has borne our diseases’ (Matt. 8:17); and that means both that he has carried them away and disposed of them, and that he has endured them, loving ‘to the end’ (John 13:1).

“The cross of Christ confronts us with both God’s supreme consolation—‘Whatever you are, I can love you’—and with his supreme reproach—‘This is what you do to love, this is what you are really like.’ In accepting God’s love for ourselves, we must also accept the judgment of that reproach. Love, in our broken world of sin, can never be other than forgiveness.”

So God in Christ has, in effect, challenged us to do the worst we can to Him. Go ahead, probe, test, push Him to the limit. The Cross testifies that He can take it and still go on loving. For divine love “is a love which can absorb our pathological drive to probe and wound.” God’s two-fold response to our stubborn insistence on testing his love to the limit gives us an insight into the nature and the ways of God. It is both consolation and reproach. He assures us that nothing we can do to Him can make Him cease loving us, but at the same time He places a mirror before us so we can see the horror of what we have made of ourselves, and what we in our sin have done to the One who loves us so much. That is why the call to salvation—the call to eternal happiness with the One who loved us first—always begins with a call to repentance.

So he concludes: “Love, in our broken world of sin, can never be other than forgiveness.” This is why I placed as title of this post the equation of divine love and mercy. Divine mercy is divine love, as applied to our sinfulness. Despite what some forms of modern, superficial “me & Jesus” spirituality may suggest, we cannot engage as equals in a loving relationship with God. We are not on a par with Him, nor does He owe us anything. He will always and forever be Creator, Lord, Father, Judge, and Savior, even if He has, in his incomprehensible compassion and humility, invited us to friendship and intimacy with Him. What He loves in us primarily is his own image and our efforts to choose his will under the influence of his grace. “His love is the ultimate source of our very existence; there is no antecedent beauty on our part.” We have to realize that his love can only (at least in this life) take the form of mercy—and there are many forms of mercy—because we daily sin against Him and are forever in need of his saving grace to keep us from falling away to the place our sins would send us.

Therefore we are always “in arrears,” owing a debt we cannot repay, dependent upon Him who never ceases to forgive as long as we never cease to repent. We stand in awe and gratitude at the way his love has silently disarmed every missile we could hurl at Him, yet we stand in shame at what we cruelly made Him suffer to manifest that love. When we constantly pray in the Liturgy “Lord, have mercy,” we are, in a sense, asking Him to love us in the way we most need to be loved; we are asking Him to love us as only He can.

Finally, if we begin to “get it” at all, if we grasp even a little of the boundlessness of God’s love-turned-mercy in the face of our sin, we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit: “Go thou and do likewise.” Now, through the mercy that has been shown us—a mercy that is not a mere legal pardon but an overflowing of personal love—we have to start bearing the infirmities of others, absorbing what they hurl at us, and responding with the love-turned-mercy that comes from the presence of God within us. “Love one another as I have loved you,” said the Lord Jesus. To take up our cross is not just to carry it but to be crucified upon it, for love’s sake. As Christians worthy of the name we must, as Tugwell concludes, “be prepared to be wounded, and wounded precisely because we have become carriers of God’s love.”

So the whole process begins with our awareness of our hiding from God and our hypocrisy toward others, then to our first faltering acceptance of God’s love—mixed with testing and distrust—to a fuller awareness of the horror of our sin and the magnitude of God’s loving mercy, to a share in communicating that same divine love/mercy to others, while sharing also in its price, the mystery of the Cross. The final step is to experience love bearing its eternally sweet and wondrous fruit in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You know, whenever I learn something more about true Christianity, I’m always amazed at the depth and the richness of it, and also at its uncompromising character. This is the real thing. Nothing expresses the truth, depth, power, and love of God like his definitive revelation in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. (And He reveals not only Himself but He also shows us who we really are—for better and for worse!) Yet it’s not enough simply to read the Scriptures to understand this revelation and to let it deeply penetrate your soul. Its drama has to be played out in your own life, your own heart, your own suffering, your own relationships, your own prayer. We must always go deeper, for there are always more unexplored depths to the mystery of God. He won’t rest until He has brought us to perfection. When his mercy has finally accomplished its task, there will be nothing left in us in which He cannot delight, and we will be taken up forever into that everlasting and unimaginable exchange of love that is the All-holy Trinity.

Posted in Mercy 13 years, 1 month ago at 8:13 pm.

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