Mercy That Endures


One of the great things about being married to a pastor is that I usually get a preview of what’s coming on Sunday morning. Throughout the week, my husband and I talk about his text and I regularly offer my own--if not always insightful, always unique—take on it. And once Sunday is over, I’m the first (and possibly the only) person to give him entirely honest feedback about how it went.*So just as equally, one of the bad things about being married to a pastor is that it’s often difficult to sit in a Sunday morning service and really hear the word of God proclaimed. Because while everyone else has distance, while everyone else sees a pastor behind the pulpit, I see my husband. The husband that I know intimately. The husband whose laundry I wash and whose meals I cook. In short, I see the man that I have lived with day in and day out for the last eleven years.

This last Sunday was no exception. My husband was preaching from Psalm 136 and one of his points was that God’s mercy endures forever. (This was the point that had been immediately preceded by a small delay when the congregation realized that a lizard was darting in and out of the pews and which ultimately resulted in several smartly-dressed parishioners on their hands and knees trying to catch the terrified creature.) But as he was unfolding the idea that God’s mercy endures, somewhere in the quiet place of my heart I heard another voice.

I heard it asking,

Daughter, how often do you endure? How often do you expect mercy to come easily? How often do you give up too soon--especially when it comes to your children?

Immediately my defenses went up.

“But you don’t understand,” I answered.  “You’re God—mercy comes naturally to you. And my children? Well, they’re so foolish—they are messy and disorganized and lazy and I have to yell at them or they won’t get the point. I have to become exasperated or they just keep doing what they're doing.”

Yes, they are foolish, but do you endure?

“Oh, you have no idea how much I endure.”

No, do you really push past the barrier of your frustration, do you let your love soften your anger, do you endure? Like I do?

And I knew, of course, that I didn’t. I knew that too often I confused childishness with disobedience. I knew that even as I found characters like Anne of Green Gables and Tom Sawyer endearing, I simultaneously found their traits, once actualized in the bodies of my children, infuriating. And I knew that I all too quickly embraced my “righteous anger.”

But this Sunday, I also realized something about God. Too often I think that we imagine Him as a fixed character in a cosmic drama—He is the constant to our development, the foil to our inconstancy. And while it is true that He never changes, we must not confuse His faithfulness with being flat and static, almost as if He were a cardboard cut-out. Because if we ourselves are not one-dimensional, how could the very God who made us in His own image be otherwise?

No, He is not a force or a concept or a paradigm. He is alive--He is a living God. And being so, He exists in all the complexity that any other living being does. He exists in a kaleidoscope of love and justice, of mercy and holiness, with nothing but His own divine power to hold the tension that allows Him to be all in all--all at the same time.

So when David says in Psalm 136 that God's mercy endures forever, perhaps it does just that. It endures. It endures our foolishness; it endures our stubbornness; it endures our weakness. Like a long-distance runner or a mountain climber, His mercy pushes past the comfort zone of His justice and keeps going until it reaches the goal--the goal of forever. So that with lungs bursting and sweat dripping, His longsuffering becomes true suffering, and through Christ, His mercy willfully and strongly holds back His very reasonable frustration.

A lot of times we talk about mercy falling “like the gentle rain from heaven.” And to us at least, it seems to--it feels like rain, like cool, calming, life-giving rain on our parched souls. But we must not think that what comes down to us so easily has been bought or won easily. Mercy freely given does not mean that it was mercy freely obtained. No, as I learned this past Sunday, mercy doesn’t simply fall. Mercy fights. Mercy struggles. Mercy endures.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________ * Carl Trueman related the following anecdote that encapsulates the unique position pastors' wives often find themselves in. "Talking to a colleague the other day, he told me how, on one Sunday, he preached an absolute stinker of a sermon.  After the service, he said to his wife, `That was the worst sermon I have ever preached.'  `No it wasn't.' she replied `Be encouraged.  I have heard you preach much worse.'  That is a truly great preacher's wife for you."