Compassion

3656052558_c68eea9d68As someone who has a heart for those in need, it is hard to ignore the recurring theme of compassion in the Bible.  I’m not just talking about the fact that we should be a compassionate people.  I’m speaking of the fact that God has, throughout scripture, had compassion and mercy on us — His people — even when they continue to be a sinful people.  It’s an interesting thread to study — to see how God had compassion on some people and not on others.  How can this be?  Is God not a fair God?

Right before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, God had a revealing discussion with him.  In Exodus 33:19 God told Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” In verse 17 of that chapter, God told Moses that he had found favor in God’s sight.  He reminded Moses that He knew Moses by name…. that their relationship was very personal and deeply connected.  God chose to have mercy on Moses.

Compassion and mercy isn’t just an Old Testament concept.   Jesus had compassion for those in the crowd who listened to his teaching.  He had compassion on those who had true need:  the widows and orphans of the world.  He saw that His people were helpless – like a sheep without a shepherd.  He alone could be their shepherd.  Out of deep compassion, He offered mercy to those who followed Him.

After Jesus, the apostles continued to show compassion and mercy to others, although of an earthly and human sort.  Paul doesn’t fail to remind believers, however, that God is the only one who can offer them the rich mercy of salvation.  Exodus 33:19 is quoted in Romans 9:15 and reads, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God did not change from Old Testament to New.

Paul, in the magnificent and enlightening book of Romans, is discussing what some view as an injustice on God’s part.  In this chapter, the subject of election is discussed — a subject which grieves the hearts of Arminians and comforts the hearts of Calvinists.

The thing is – it’s an important concept to understand.  In Romans 9, Paul reminds his listeners that all of those who have believed and followed the teachings of Jesus are now counted as the offspring of Abraham.  That was a bit offensive to the Hebrews people who were listening, as you might imagine.

Somewhere along the line, the Hebrew people had forgotten that God had loved Jacob, but had hated Esau.  The crowd must have been leaning towards Paul in anticipation as he said in verse 14, “Does that mean there is injustice on the part of God?  Absolutely not!”

It’s difficult to understand, based on human reasoning and emotion, how God could chose some and not others.  Verse 16 tells us that it does not depend on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy on some and not on others.

That’s why I’ve been pondering the mercy and compassion of God lately.  That’s why I have been reminding myself that God, in His sovereign mercy chose some of us and did not choose others of us.  Even that was merciful – that God did not choose some.  How, you say?  I can’t answer that — but scripture says His choice was merciful.  Do I believe the Word of God?

Does a potter have no right to create and mold the clay?  Suppose, just suppose that God desired to show his wrath in order to make known his power.  Suppose that He patiently endured “us” — we, who are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.  What if God, in order to make known the riches of his glory, (for us, the vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory) called some not only from the Jews but from the Gentiles?

We get distracted from this truth when we try to figure out who is who — who is chosen and who is not.  We should not do this.   Romans 10:6-7 tells us not to wonder about who will go to heaven and who will go down into the abyss. Our inclination to control the yeas and neas gets us into trouble.

Righteousness, based on faith, tells us that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Because our heart believes, we are justified.  Because our mouths have confessed our sin, we are saved.

Yet Chapter 10 reminds us that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ….not a facsimile  of the word of Christ…..not an analogy of the words of Christ…but the words of Christ.

Summarizing, Psalm 103 reminds us that just as a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  As a people who fear God — as a people who love God and respect His entirety, should we not become a compassionate people?  (Always remembering that our compassion is not of our own doing, but flows through the hand of God.)

Psalm 103:1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word,  obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Image by Robert Nunnally (Creative Commons Attribution License)

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