When must we NOT show mercy?
This is the first, but surely not the last, you will read about my gardening experiences. I find so many illustrations about the Christian life when I am tending my garden. Maybe that’s why it all began in a garden.
The truth is: I have a love/hate relationship with my garden. Oh, how I love the blooms, the fragrance, the sheer beauty that shows its face each spring. Oh, how I hate the seemingly endless care that it requires. And to be honest, I’m not the most gifted gardener. But, I try.
Today, I was attacking an overgrown hydrangea with the pruning shears. Perhaps “attacking” is too strong a word, but I think the hydrangea would disagree. From the plant’s point of view, I seemed just vicious, showing no mercy. But in fact, I was saving its life. There were shoots of dead wood, and if left intact, they would have a negative impact on the rest of the plant, as well as the other plants in the garden, especially the peony next door.
At times, I feared I was too aggressive, but I’ve had this hydrangea a long time. We’ve been through this before, and from past experience, I know that this seemingly harsh treatment is very beneficial. My hydrangea rewards me every summer with a bounty of blooms because with the life-sucking shoots gone, its energy can be directed toward new life.
As Christians, we are instructed to show mercy. Jesus says “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt. 5:7). Mercy is the very hallmark of the Christian. But there are times when what appears to be mercy isn’t.
When a friend or loved one is engaged in dangerous behavior, they need boundaries and consequences, not an enabler. When sin is crouching at our door, it needs a swift kick right out that door. When envy or bitterness or resentment start slithering under our skin, we need to uproot and destroy it. Just a few verses after Jesus teaches about mercy, He says,
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matt. 5:39)
Ouch, well, that doesn’t seem too merciful to the eye, does it? No, but sin is like gangrene. It may start small, but unless it is amputated and removed, it will spread causing death and destruction.
So the truly merciful thing to do is nip it in the bud, just like my hydrangea.