Have Mercy

“Have Mercy on Those Who Doubt…” (Jude 22)

A week before the start of my 5th grade year, our teacher fell from the roof of his house breaking, if I remember correctly, his hip and leg, and would be out of the classroom for the first semester.  While tragic, there was a part of me that was overjoyed. This particular teacher had a reputation for being tough on students. My older brother had him for a teacher and told me all sorts of stories. Plus, our substitute for the semester was a new, young, female teacher – everyone was happy!

That was until the start of the second semester. When our regular teacher returned, he felt it was his mission to whip us into shape, to correct the inadequacies of the substitute’s teaching methods.  There were push-ups for wrong answers.  He tapped his cane like Thor’s hammer on our desks to get our attention. There was a lot more yelling involved than the first semester. Generally, it was a miserable experience.

I wonder, then, if this was the temptation that Jude experienced in his letter to the Church. He wanted to write to them about their common salvation in Jesus Christ, but because of the false teachers who had crept in and twisted the gospel into a license for sensuality and rejecting the Lord and Master Jesus Christ, he instead had to plead with them to contend for the faith.  Hearing of how they had been deceived and deluded, one response could have been like the return of our 5th grade teacher, “The beatings will continue until moral improves!”

Instead, Jude gives gracious instruction, “Have mercy on those who doubt.”  Those who have been led astray by the false teachers, who are struggling with doubts, questions, worries, and fears, show them mercy.  Don’t come down with wrath, judgment, or an air of superiority.  Be gentle with them and avoid vilifying those who are honestly and humbly struggling with some aspect of the faith. They are still in the faith, though they may have doubts, so encourage them in mercy and kindness.

How we need to be reminded of this today! Too often, in times when we are feeling particularly content in our own righteousness, we sit in evaluation of others faith and wonder why they’re not as mature as we are. We grow impatient with others continued struggle with sin, their slow growth in faith and fruitfulness in the Spirit, and we vent our frustration, “shouldn’t they know better by now?!?”

So Jude reminds us to show mercy.  Mercy is the withholding of judgment, exercising instead, patience, kindness, and compassionate care.  Mercy is born from a humble and honest self-evaluation. Mercy is the recognition that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Mercy is forgiving not seven times, but seventy times seven. Mercy is the means by which we know the grace and favor of God in Jesus Christ, therefore we are to be merciful to others as well. 

To quote from Shakespear’s Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

SDG

Dealing with Questions and Doubts

Sometimes Pastoral Ministry means going out and seeking the sheep who have gone astray, and leading them back to the green pastures.

Sometimes in Pastoral Ministry, the sheep just sort of wander into your office and ask to be fed.

The latter has happened a couple of times this past week.  New faces come into the church,  sometimes asking for help, other times just to talk; but always with questions.  If I can be patient, the questions start flowing, and relationships start forming.  It’s awesome.

Why do we discourage questions?

I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me afraid to ask questions.  Somewhere along the way someone has told them that asking questions is the same thing as questioning God, and if they can’t just accept what they are told, then they cannot be saved.

I want to encourage questions.  I think it was Anselm who said, “Theology is faith seeking understanding.”  You cannot seek understanding unless you first recognize what you do not already know.  And what you don’t already know is usually expressed in the form of questions.

People have said there are no stupid questions.  I don’t know if I’d always agree.  I had one student in confirmation class who kept asking me if goats will fly in heaven.  That was a stupid question.

Honest, heart-felt questions that try to get to a deeper richer understanding of who God is, who we are, and how we get right with him – those can never be stupid questions.  Ask away. Jesus said no one may enter the kingdom of heaven unless he comes like a child, and if you’ve ever spent any time with a child, you know they ask a lot of questions.  It is the only way we ever really learn.

But that’s the flip side of the invitation to asking, you have to be ready and willing to find the answer.  Simply asking for questions but never listening for the answer is the formula for folly.  If you are going to ask questions of faith, then you must also look to the Scriptures, which are the only rule for life and faith.  Take up and read, pursue wisdom at all costs, stay deeply rooted in the Word of God.  Only there will you find the answers you seek.

Related to questions is doubt.  Doubt is that painful, nagging gap between our experience and our faith.  We know God has promised X, but our experience has been Y, can we really trust and rest in what He has said?

Our confession reminds us:

True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounded the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, but God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

Ether through quiet spiritual neglect, or by willful rebellion in sin; we have our faith shaken, and we can be overcome with doubt.  Yet we are reminded in God’s Word, that even when our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, he knows everything (1 John 3:20).

So come to God with your questions, come to Him with your doubts and worries.  Come as you are, not as you think you should be. Come to Him.  Let His Word speak to you, teach you, and bring life to you through faith in Jesus Christ.