Mercy, Mercy Me. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

The church must be faithful in diagnosing sin and be absolutely clear. That’s what the law does. It makes sin clear. “This is a sin. That is not.” Now you know. “This is a mortal sin and doing this under these conditions will put you in danger of spending eternity in hell.” Does that sound nice? No. It’s painful. Might it make people upset? Perhaps.  Might it cause them pain? Maybe. Might they feel rejected and hurt? It’s possible.

But the doctor diagnoses cancer not to condemn the person and make them feel bad, but to lead them on to therapy and surgery that he hopes will cure them. Is the process of therapy and surgery difficult and painful? Sure. Is it risky and uncertain? Yes.

Now this is the main problem with much of the talk of mercy in the church today. They are talking about mercy without first diagnosing sin. They are talking about mercy without acknowledging the need for repentance. They are talking about mercy without a rejection of sin. They are welcoming the prodigal along with his pigs.

We have forgotten that the priest is given (in the old Anglican language) “the cure of souls”. The priest is a soul doctor. He’s there to diagnose the cancer of sin and offer the surgery of confession and the therapy of penance.

What if the doctor knew you had cancer and didn’t want to make you feel bad so he said, “Nothing to worry about. You just have a tummy ache. Take two aspirin and you’ll be just fine.” We would say he is a bad doctor. What if he says, “You know that stomach pain you have? We need to discuss this together. I think you should forget about that. It’s not real. You’re fine as you are. I don’t want you to feel low self esteem.” What if in his own need to be loved he doesn’t want to hurt his patient and says, “You’re fine just as you are. You have a few stomach pains, but we’re going to adjust your diet a bit and accompany you as you learn how to eat better.” No. In all those cases he’s not only a bad doctor, he’s a fraud, a charlatan and a fool.

Sometimes God’s mercy is a severe mercy. The law is given to help diagnose the cancer of sin and Christ died to deliver us from that cancer and heal our sin sick souls. Why don’t we hear this in all the talk of mercy? Why don’t we hear the true message of mercy, that God calls sinners to repentance and faith and through this transaction with the living Lord they can begin their adventure into abundant life and have strength for the long journey home?

In Romans 11 St Paul warns,  “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.”