Welcome back readers to Deeper Waters as we continue our dive into the ocean of truth. We’ve been going through the doctrine of God in Christian thought and tonight, we’re going to continue our look as we begin a focus on the mercy of God. Our guide that we have been following has been the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. This can be read for free at newadvent.org. Tonight, we’re going to be asking if mercy can be attributed to God.
Our first objection to this is that mercy is a kind of sorrow. However, as we looked earlier, we found that God is impassible and thus, he cannot be said to have a passion. If we were right earlier, it would seem that we are wrong now and we must look again at several other doctrines. However, could it be that we are wrong now?
Mercy is a passion in the sense of the experience, but not in the act. God acts in ways that are merciful, but this is not because he has a passion within him that is responding to something, but rather because of his divine wisdom. The great joy if impassibility is knowing that God cannot be swayed by something external to himself. Because someone has more emotion, that does not mean God’s heart leans towards them more. You cannot blackmail God in any way.
The second argument says that mercy is a relaxation of justice. However, based on 2 Timothy 2:13, God cannot deny himself. If he were to have mercy then, it would seem that he would be denying himself for he does not possess justice so much as he is justice per his simplicity.
Aquinas answers however that God does not go against justice but rather does something that is more than justice. For instance, suppose you have a debt of $100 to a man. You pay him $200 when you repay your debt. You did not go against justice, but rather, you went beyond it. You gave him what you owed him and then you gave him even more.
Mercy is the same way. Mercy is a gift. To forgive someone something is to bestow upon them a gift. The God who can forgive our sins is one who is indeed terrifying. He can forgive them as a gift and is not forced to punish. What forgiveness we have, we should see as a gift of divine grace.
The purpose of mercy is to remove defects from what one has. Mercy is seen as the goodness that expels defects. Where justice is owed for some lack in something, mercy means going the extra mile. Justice says punish the sinner. Mercy says he can be punished, but he can instead be forgiven as a gift. Justice says repay the man the money you owe. Mercy says to repay and give him even more from what he lacks out of your bounty.
We can be thankful that God is merciful, though it is not in the sense of experiencing a passion, but in the sense that he gives us not only what we owe, but that by which he chooses to bless us. Forgiveness is a benefit to us. God is not benefitted by forgiving us, but we can exalt him for the forgiveness he has given and spread the glory of his Name.
Let’s do that.
We shall continue tomorrow.