Mercy Is Not for the Deserving, It’s for Us

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.”

I am a Jesus Freak, and I don't care who knows it. I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend. My blood family is only part of the larger family of Christ that I belong to. I love to write, especially about my dear Savior.


9 Responses

  1. What a great post! “…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…” That is so very true. It’s easy to condemn and seek vengeance- just human nature. But, like you said, that is not the way the Lord would have us to be. None of us are deserving of mercy, least of all me, but I am thankful that He is merciful.
    In Christ,

    • Ben, I thought of you when I wrote this one, not because you are a worse sinner than anyone else, but because you love mercy. My prayer is that more Christians would learn this important lesson and we, as His Church, would really be seen as different from the world. Peace, Linda

  2. Wow Linda. .. powerful post. Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I don’t want anyone to go to hell. I want everyone to receive mercy. Micah 6:8 is one of the one’s He’s given me . . .because I need things simple. It’s pretty plain and simple. What He emphasized in it , for me, was to LOVE mercy. Love it. Not just for me , but for me to love being merciful to others. I’ve got more work to do on that, so really was blessed by this so much. Thank you!!!! You keep writing things He wants me to hear!

    • Deb, I agree. I don’t want anyone to go to hell, either. I want everyone to find Him and be saved. I want Him to change every heart just like He has changed mine (and yours 🙂 ). Thank you for your encouraging comment. Peace, Linda

  3. But it isn’t just Julie Schenecker in Tampa, or the guy in Arizona who shot the congresswoman and killed more. Or the 16 year old kid in St. Petersburg who shot and killed a cop yesterday. Here in Florida, we watch the slaughter du jour on the nightly news, reported as if these things just happen.

    My heart is hard as stone when it comes to parents who pimp out their five year old babies to drug dealers who rape them, cut them into pieces, then float them down a canal in a suitcase.

    Or the guy parked on I-95 who, just last week saturated his adopted kids in extermination chemicals until the little girl was dead and the boy was burning and convulsing in seizures.

    Love the sinner, hate the sin. And yes, Micah 6:8. And of course, I know all that. But where does it end? I need to watch less Nancy Grace. And pray more. And remember what the Bible teaches about mercy.

    But for now I’m outraged. And I’ll pray for understanding and that your lesson today will reach my heart. But that will have to be a God thing, because my flesh says Hell’s not good enough. : (

    Hugs… Linda

    • Linda, Has it ever occurred to you that these people already live in hell? They don’t know peace, they don’t know God, they don’t have or understand the Love that sustains you and me? I don’t understand it either; I do not understand people who intentionally hurt others. But I know that what God asks of me is to show mercy, and then leave it to Him to decide if that mercy will be eternal. It is a God thing, and it is only because of the change He caused in my heart when I had to forgive someone who hurt me. When I think of how I have sinned against God in my life, I know Hell’s not good enough for me, either. And I am really grateful that He does not see it that way. Peace, hugs, and prayers for understanding, Linda

      • Your reply made me think of Romans 9:14-16…

        What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (NIV)

        Turning off HLN, praying, thinking about mercy today… : )

  4. Linda,

    “But do any of us deserve mercy? If deserving it was a prerequisite to mercy, well, it wouldn’t be mercy.”
    This is a hard truth…

    It’s often easier for us to decide who deserves mercy because we are not in the position of the one who has fallen.

    Blessings, Linda. Thanks for reminding us of the reason Jesus gave His life.


    • Ann, You brought to mind the old Kris Kristopherson song “Jesus was a carpenter.” I always loved the line “Everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on.” We want mercy for ourselves, but we always have to find someone else who we don’t think should receive it. He wants all to receive it with humble hearts. Peace, Linda

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