What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
To the sinner (read: all of us), nothing is more comforting and reassuring than the divine principle of mercy.
I fear that many do not fully understand this great gift, most of all myself. In Church this past Sunday, I was pointed to the following verse:
For behold, [Zenock] said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son. (Alma 33:16)
Wow. The Lord is upset with us because we can’t get it through our thick skulls how merciful He is. Sometimes in our sinful state we are prone to imagine (no doubt with Satan’s prompting) that a just God is looking down sharply upon us, ready to reprimand us for our errant behavior. In that mindset, we eagerly wish we could hide and avoid the looming punishment.
But how do we reconcile such fleeting feelings with the consistent counsel that our God is a loving heavenly Father? I think we need to learn and remember just how merciful our God is. Joseph Smith once taught:
Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be…. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 257)
The Prophet of this dispensation—a man intimately acquainted with God and his many attributes—tells us here that God is more merciful than we tend to believe. Do we believe Joseph? Would we rather envision a stern, just God than a loving, merciful one?
I find it interesting that one of the prerequisites to gaining a spiritual witness of the veracity of the Book of Mormon is that we must “remember how merciful the Lord hath been”. Surely the scriptures are filled with examples of God’s mercy. The fact alone that we possess the scriptures today shows how merciful He is in remembering the covenants He has made with our fathers.
Our current Prophet has said:
How godlike a quality is mercy. It cannot be legislated. It must come from the heart. It must be stirred up from within. It is part of the endowment each of us receives as a son or daughter of God and partaker of a divine birthright. I plead for an effort among all of us to give greater expression and wider latitude to this instinct which lies within us. I am convinced that there comes a time, possibly many times, within our lives when we might cry out for mercy on the part of others. How can we expect it unless we have been merciful ourselves? (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Blessed Are the Merciful,” Ensign, May 1990, 68)
I invite you to cultivate this quality with me. Certainly such cultivation requires a trial and error process through which we learn how best to show mercy, when to delay judgment, and to whom it may appropriately be administered. But we must be merciful in our quest to attain godly perfection. Time to get started…