When the Holy Spirit moves in significant ways, He doesn’t usually specialize. One of the most striking features of reformations is how many things get addressed in them. In the great Reformation of the 16th century, doctrinal issues were on the table, as everyone knows, but it was also a liturgical reformation, a musical revolution, a time of political upheaval, an era of technological gee-whizzery, and an explosion of mercy ministries.
Our English word mercy is a translation of multiple words both in Hebrew and Greek, and so in a detailed study there are a number of nuances to consider and remember. At the center, however, there are two main emphases represented by this word. In Hebrew, the word hesed refers to love, loyalty, faithful, loving-kindness, and mercy, all in the context of relationship. Mercy also refers to kindness extended in situations where that kindness had been forfeited by the recipient of it. The clearest example of this is the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant (the word here is kapporeth). In this latter sense, mercy is extended in the form of forgiveness, but in order for that to happen, violence was necessary. The mercy seat was sprinkled with blood, and without the violence of that bloodshed, there could be no mercy, no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22). No blood, no mercy.
These two emphases can be distinguished, but not really separated. Mercy can and should be extended where the recipient of the mercy is in his plight through no fault of his own (John 9:2). At the same time, this simply means that he had done nothing in particular to deserve his misfortune. He, like the rest of us, had come to live in a screwed up world that got this way through overt rebellion against God. In other words — sin is always the culprit at some level. Mercy ministries are not necessary among the elect angels in heaven. There are no soup kitchens in the resurrection. Because sin is the culprit, mercy ministries can never stray too far from the mercy seat, and when they do stray, pleas for mercy always morph into demands for justice, which is always a perilous line of argument for sinners to take.
In order to consider the foundations of mercy, we will have to evaluate a number of things in turn — the character of God Himself, the relation of justice to mercy, the relation of violence to mercy, the claims of pseudo-mercy, the conditions under which the God of all mercy is merciless, and more. And that, Lord willing, is what we shall do in this series.