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God’s Mercy Endures Forever

There is a word from the great hymn “Amazing Grace” that’s had a rollercoaster effect on my spiritual journey. It’s the word wretch (“Amazing grace . . . that saved a wretch like me.”). Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines wretch as “a miserable person . . . base, despicable, or vile person.” There were times in my spiritual journey when feeling like I was the wretch in that song made it that much better. Almost as if my wretchedness was part of the reason I sang a little louder, rather than because of God’s great mercy. 

This week’s Sabbath school lesson outlined some excellent examples and definitions of God’s mercy. In Sunday’s reading of Psalms 136, the author exclaims that “his mercy endures forever,” repeating this phrase 26 times. As the lesson states, when we have experienced God’s mercy, we respond in “joyous worship and confidence” because of his mercy. This praise is not to gain his mercy, but rather a response because his mercy has already been given, and is given, and will be given forever. Our experience with human mercy tends to extend only so far, and mercy is usually given in circumstances that warrant it. But this Psalm reminds us that God’s mercy never ends and is for everyone . . . forever. That’s a kind of mercy we aren’t very acquainted with in this world. How can we repay a gift that always was, is, and will always be? The fact that this Psalm repeats “his mercy endures forever” 26 times is perhaps not only rhythmic as it is repetitious for our sake.

Monday’s reading covered Psalm 51, where the infamous verse of “Create in me a clean heart, O God” is located—a psalm that David pleaded after his sin of adultery and murder. The lesson points out that the Hebrew word bara is used, “Divine forgiveness is more than legal proclamation of innocence—it produces a profound change that reaches the innermost parts of the human self.” This verb, bara, is creative power, and “only God can bara.” Dutch biblical scholar Ellen van Wolde goes further and describes the Hebrew word for heart in verse 12, stating that it “represents the center of the human being: לב stands for the inner world in which all kinds of thoughts, feelings, emotions, wishes, reflections are located.”  This bara is to not just blot out the transgressions of outward actions to a restored state but to create our inner world, perhaps even to create us to see ourselves as something other than wretched.

In Tuesday’s lesson, Psalm 130 made a beautiful point that the phrase “wait on the Lord” uses the same Hebrew root word for “wait” as for “hope” and is thought of as a sort of hopeful stretch and an eager anticipation of the Lord’s intervention. Theologian Robert Alter agrees, writing in his commentary The Book of Psalms: “Two manuscripts read ‘for Your word.’ This would turn the first clause into a vocative (‘I hoped, O Lord’). . . . The awaited word from God is presumably a word of forgiveness” (456). This hopeful stretch for God’s mercy, a mercy that always will be, perhaps is a way to see ourselves as God’s beloved, rather than a wretch.

Thursday’s lesson went in-depth into Psalm 103, with the admonition to “forget not all His benefits.” It was pointed out that his benefits are his blessings, and that remembering these blessings is crucial to continue to walk in liberty and confidence, “remembering is more than cognition: it involves commitment expressed in action.” The day’s lesson ended by asking, how do we bless God? Using Psalm 103, we were given two instructions of how to bless God: first, the importance of praise, and second, remembering his benefits, and this can be done as we spend time with God daily in that relationship with him. 

I would like to add a third way we can bless God. This third way was hinted at all throughout the lesson of the week, and even in the Psalms that were studied. That third way is: we bless God by being merciful to others. This mercy lived out is some of the greatest praise we can give, as spoken by Jesus when he stated that whatever we do to the least of these we do to him. When we have experienced God’s never-ending mercy, we can’t help but extend it to others. Even those we may call wretched.

And that brings me back to that old hymn “Amazing Grace.” Years ago, when I realized that God doesn’t see us as wretched but that he sees us and calls us beloved, I saw that perhaps his mercy is a creative power (bara) to unlock our fetters and open our blindness to see ourselves and all humanity as his beloved. His mercy has that creative power to wash away my self-loathing identity as a wretch and see myself through God’s identity as his beloved. As Henri Nouwen writes in his book Life of the Beloved, “We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth spoken by the Voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’”

Just as God’s voice from heaven called Jesus Beloved, God’s voice calls to us the same. God’s never-ending mercy saves us from viewing ourselves as wretches and instead calls us to see ourselves as beloved and lean into that identity. When that happens, our eyes are opened to see others as beloved as well. Perhaps being restored to our identity as his beloved is something all humanity longs for. As the poem “Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver so eloquently puts it:

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

God’s never-ending mercy is able to return our awareness to our true identity as beloved. As we experience that beloved gift from our Creator, we are able to extend that beloved feeling in acts of mercy to others around us, even those we may refer to as our enemy or wretched. 

About the author

Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin is the former vice principal for spiritual life at Auburn Adventist Academy. She has served as a minister, teacher, and administrator in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for over two decades. She is currently completing a PhD in Transformative Social Change, with an emphasis in Peace and Justice Studies. More from Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin.
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