Johnny Cash recorded a song, originally written by Nick Cave, called “The Mercy Seat.” It is a powerful song about a man on death row. There is no indication of what his crime is or what evidence there was against him. Throughout the song he repeatedly states that he is innocent, that he never told a lie, and that he is not afraid to die. We were listening to it in the car one time and my 15-year-old son commented that the last line was the most powerful line he had ever heard in a song. I’ve posted a video with the song at the end of this post in case anyone wants to listen, or you can read all of the lyrics here. The last verse is:
And the mercy seat is smoking
And I think my head is melting
And in a way that’s helpin’
to be done with all this twistin’ of the truth
An eye for an eye
And a tooth for a tooth
And any way I told the truth
But I’m afraid I told a lie.
I’ve always assumed what he told a lie about was his innocence or the fact that he hadn’t lied before. But it occurred to me recently that what he lied about is more likely that he was not afraid to die. He knows he’s done wrong (even if not this particular crime) and he knows only mercy and death will release him from the guilt and fear. He knows at this point only God can save him; only God will show him mercy.
In Heaven His throne is made of gold
The ark of his Testament is stowed
A throne from which I’m told
All history does unfold.
It’s made of wood and wire
And my body is on fire
And God is never far away.
The other day on Facebook one of my friends posted an article about Julie Schenecker, the woman in Florida who shot and killed her two teenage children. Her comment on the post was “I hope she rots in Hell.” This friend is a Christian woman, and so I was a bit shocked by this because Christ calls us to be merciful. I posted my own comment that I didn’t think we should be hoping that anyone rots in Hell, no matter what they did. While they were murdering Him, Jesus said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34. Shouldn’t we do the same?
The response I got was that this woman killed her kids so my friend didn’t care what was going on in her mind or heart. She didn’t deserve a plea bargain (though any plea bargain in this case is likely to involve her spending a long time in prison) and didn’t deserve mercy. But do any of us deserve mercy? If deserving it was a prerequisite to mercy, well, it wouldn’t be mercy.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8.
The world does not show mercy, but seeks vengeance. As Christians we should be different from the world. We are called not only to show mercy, but to love mercy. We should not pick and choose who we think deserves mercy and who does not, for none truly deserves the mercy that God shows to us. Instead, we should offer mercy to the most undeserving. Although from a societal standpoint we most certainly must have laws and punish those who violate those laws, from an eternal standpoint we should hope and pray that all who are in violation of God’s law would repent and turn to their Savior for mercy and forgiveness so that they would not spend an eternity suffering for their transgressions. We should hope that, before they die, they would confess “I’m afraid I told a lie.”