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Question

What is the definition of mercy?

video definition of mercy
Answer


Mercy describes a divine attribute of God’s nature—He is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4), and His “mercy is great” (2 Samuel 24:14; see also Daniel 9:9). Mercy is revealed in the actions God takes to relieve suffering and demonstrate His faithfulness and steadfast love. Mercy is such an exceptionally complex concept that several Hebrew and Greek words are used to express the dimensions of its meaning. Synonyms like compassion, lovingkindness, favor, and steadfast love often appear in Bible translations to illustrate the idea of mercy. A brief biblical definition of mercy is “the gift of God’s undeserved kindness and compassion.”


On a human level, mercy is the benevolent or compassionate treatment of someone suffering or in need. Mercy is an attitude that moves us to act on behalf of the unfortunate. On a divine level, mercy is the foundation of forgiveness expressed in God’s pardon of human sin. By His divine quality of mercy, God remains faithful to His covenant promises and His relationship with His people despite their unworthiness and faithlessness (Deuteronomy 30:1–6; Isaiah 14:1; Romans 9:15–16, 23; Ephesians 2:4–9).

When God revealed Himself to Moses, He emphasized the prominence of His mercy: “The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, ‘Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty’” (Exodus 34:6–7, NLT).

In God’s mercy, He shows leniency. He withholds punishment from sinners even though they deserve it: “But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever. What a gracious and merciful God you are!” (Nehemiah 9:31, NLT). God’s mercy also causes Him to give good gifts to those who are undeserving: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us” (Luke 1:78, NLT). Thus, mercy is related to grace.

Jesus Christ is the fullest, most dynamic expression of God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:4–5). In His earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrated compassion and mercy for the helpless and suffering (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 20:34; Mark 6:34; Luke 7:13). Mercy motivated Christ to give “himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2; see also Galatians 2:20) so that through Him we might be forgiven of our sins (Hebrews 2:17) and granted the gift of eternal life (1 Peter 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:14–16; Jude 1:21).

In Titus 3:4–7, the apostle Paul gives us one of the best descriptions of God’s mercy as revealed in Jesus Christ: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” God’s mercy not only forgives and saves us but also withholds the punishment we deserve.

The Bible beckons Christians “to love mercy” (Micah 6:8) and “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Believers must show the same mercy and compassion toward one another that God demonstrates toward them (Zechariah 7:9; Matthew 5:7; 18:33–35; Colossians 3:12; James 2:12–13; 1 Peter 3:9). Mercy is also pronounced as a greeting and a blessing on God’s people (Galatians 6:14; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:16–18; 2 John 3; Jude 1:2, 21).

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This page last updated: November 20, 2023