Loving The Sinner: An Unpopular Mercy

Loving The Sinner: An Unpopular Mercy March 20, 2019

Does everyone deserve love? Does everyone receive mercy?

In some contexts, we can freely affirm these ideas. Of course everyone deserves to be loved. Certainly everyone receives God’s mercy and forgiveness, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

It’s the vagueness of these ideals that allows us to affirm them. But give us someone specific and these start to break down.

For example: The man who walked into a Mosque in New Zealand and shot 50 people dead – some of them small children – does this man deserve to be loved? Should we seek to show mercy to this person? Would we rejoice to see him sincerely repent and confess his sins? Would we gladly extend this man forgiveness and mercy?

Probably not.

But, this is where true love and actual mercy must be applied, or we’re just blowing smoke about the power of God’s love, mercy and grace.

Either we believe that everyone truly deserves to be loved – not only by God, but also by those of us who claim to follow Christ – or we must admit that we are selective about who does and does not deserve to be loved and shown mercy.

We have to take Jesus seriously when he says things like this:

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!…Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.  You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” (Luke 6:32-38)

Our love should be outlandish, even scandalous, if it is to mirror the sort of love Jesus speaks of here.

This kind of love will be unpopular. It might get us in trouble. We may lose friends over it. People might hate us fiercely for loving people who are evil, and showing mercy to sinners who do not deserve it.

But, that’s what mercy means: Showing kindness and favor to those who do not deserve it.

If they deserved kindness and favor, then we would call that “Justice”; because this was how they should have been treated, but were not.

Mercy is another level. It’s showing kindness, favor and compassion to someone who by definition does NOT deserve any of those things.

We all love mercy when it’s coming our direction. If I screw up, hurt someone, end up in prison, receive the just penalty for my sins; this is justice. I deserve all of that. But, if the Judge decides to show me mercy, throws out my case, dismisses my charges and says “you’re free to go”, that is a beautiful act of mercy.

I would praise God for this mercy if it were being shown to me, or to my children, or someone I love who was being given a second chance.

Mercy, when it is directed at me, is beautiful.

But when mercy is given to someone else; someone who killed innocent people; someone who acted selfishly or hatefully; someone who – by definition – does NOT deserve such mercy, I am not typically very quick to rejoice, or to praise God, or to celebrate the beauty of mercy.

On the contrary, I am usually quick to cry foul and to demand justice. In those cases, I am not a fan of mercy.

Maybe we need to rethink this verse which says:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what is required of you: To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Notice, we are to “do justice” but we are to “love mercy.”

Loving mercy is much harder than doing justice.

So, this has been on my heart lately. Last Friday evening, after the shooting in New Zealand, we had an opportunity to share a meal with our Muslim neighbors. During that time, we observed a moment of silence together in remembrance of those who had lost their lives. That was when, for a brief instant, the face of the killer popped into my mind. I wondered, “Who will show this man mercy? Who will teach this man about forgiveness and love?”

Almost no one would want to visit this man in jail to see how he’s doing. Almost no one would care to pray for him, or take the time to show him the kind of love that might transform his heart and bring him to a place of sincere repentance.

No one except Jesus, and those who put his words into practice.

But this is what Jesus expects of us, I believe. His message to us about loving those who do not show us love in return is clear. We should love this way specifically because God loves this way.

When we love this way, we are most like our Heavenly Father who sends rain on the just and the unjust.

Does this man who killed Muslims in New Zealand deserve love? Does he deserve to be shown mercy?

No, he does not deserve to be loved because of what he did; but he does deserve love in spite of it.

Love does not excuse our evils, but love is also not changed by it either.

If love really is our only hope – and I do believe it is – then this love of Christ must extend to even the worst of sinners, even to the most despicable people we can think of, or it’s empty and worthless to all of us.

Please understand: I am not in any way excusing the horrific actions of this murderer. It makes me sick to think of what sort of person could possibly do such an evil thing. I hate what he did and I mourn for those who have suffered because of his vile actions.

Let me be clear: I am not saying this man should be set free. Mercy would not be served by ignoring his crimes. He certainly must endure the penalties that correspond to his horrible actions. However, justice and mercy may work hand-in-hand to bring about his ultimate transformation.

But, if I cannot find it in my heart to offer even a small prayer of mercy for this broken and twisted individual; if I cannot imagine God’s love extending even to this person’s darkened soul, then what good is this love for me? Or for you? For anyone?

That night at the Peace Feast, when we bowed our heads in silence, I did – just for a moment – whisper a prayer of mercy for this horribly evil person whose mind has been twisted by hate; and I wished for just an instant that the transformative love of Christ might obliterate his darkness and reveal to him the magnitude of the crime he had committed against humanity and against God. For a second I had a fleeting hope that, one day, this man might be brought to his knees under the weight of his own sin and cry out desperately for mercy…and for that moment I sincerely hoped that he might receive it.

Make no mistake: What he did will always be evil. It will always be wrong. But it is wrong specifically because it is contrary to the law of love.

Love says we are all one. Love says we are all the children of God. Love says we do not hate one another. Love says we do not kill one another.

Love also says, we must extend grace and mercy – and offer forgiveness – to those who do not yet deserve such things, but who most certainly demonstrate their poverty for such treasures.

We don’t heal the darkness with more darkness. We don’t spread love by holding it back from those who need it the most.

Love is not easy. But it is the only thing that will ever heal us, or save us, or make us one.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love covers over a multitude of sins. Love never fails.” 

Do we believe this?

Certainly, we ourselves need this to be true. But if it’s true for us, then it must be true for everyone. Or it’s not true for anyone.


Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.

His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. 

BONUS: Want to unlock exclusive content including blog articles, short stories, music, podcasts, videos and more? Visit my Patreon page.


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