Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Father of Mercies

Happy Father's Day!

There is a story of Napoleon and a mother's son. The son committed a crime twice. The first time he was given leniency; the second time he was sentenced to death. The mother went to Napoleon and said, "Please have mercy on my son." Napoleon replied, "He must be put to death if justice is to be served." She pleaded, "I am not asking you for justice but for mercy." Yet again, Napoleon said, "He deserves justice," and the mother repeated, "I am not asking for justice but for mercy." Napoleon, irritated by her persistence, finally stated, "Your son does not deserve mercy!" To that the mother responded, "If he deserved mercy, it would not be mercy."

When a disobedient child offends his father, his father still loves him and wishes to heal the relationship. How can it be healed? What can a child do to make amends? Gestures of good will from the child can signal a conversion of heart, but forgiveness cannot be merited. Offenses create an emotional debt that require reparations; forgiveness is the relinquishing of that debt.

A child who cracks his father's car window, for example, can offer to pay for a new window as part of seeking reconciliation. The damage is finite and the person offended is finite. There is a limit to the damage and offense. However, what can be offered to God to compensate for our sins? A ruinous soul offends God infinitely since God's personality is infinite. An infinite debt is owed to God. Sobering up to this reality, humanity finds itself in debt beyond power to pay. Is there nothing that we can do to reconcile with our Heavenly Father?

God, our Eternal Father, the model father of all fathers on earth, loves us so much that He wishes to pardon everyone from their sins, but not without first delivering justice. If we are to get the mercy, who must receive the justice? Both must be dispensed because mercy without justice is indifference towards sin and justice without mercy is law without love.

Therefore, God sent His only Son, Jesus, sinless yet declared guilty in front of the entire world, to bear all the justice owed to humanity through a slave's death on a cross. On the other hand, we are shown mercy in the Sacrament of Baptism and Reconciliation: the Father absolves our sins by imputing the justice that is due to us upon Jesus. This is exactly why Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6; 6:44); only by His ignominious death is our debt of sin repaid to the Father. Therefore, nobody can ever take credit for "earning" Heaven. One is instead received into Heaven on the merits of Jesus:
They are justified freely by grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus. He is God set forth as an expiation, received through faith, to prove His righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God -- to prove His righteousness in the present time, that He might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith. (Rom 3:24-27)
As my regular confessor tells me, "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercy endures forever" (Ps 136:2). On the drive home from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I pondered, "What does it mean for mercy to endure forever?" A certain prophecy about the Resurrection came to mind: the justified servants of God will worship Him for all eternity (Rev 22:3). How do these two passages relate? All of God's people will live with Him forever because of His mercy -- His mercy shall literally live forever!