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  • stannussbaum

Is this the best we can do? Lord, have mercy.

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

My brother-in-law is having some serious backaches, but the earliest he can get an examination is six weeks away. Depending on how the exam goes, he will then have to make another appointment some weeks or months further away to get any treatment. We have a lot of very intelligent, well-intentioned people in the health care system, but seriously, is this the best we can do for back pain—or any other pain or condition? Lord, have mercy.

The American electoral system has given us the two same old front-runners for U.S. President, but at their age it would be more accurate to say they are walking for office than running for it. One is already facing multiple felony indictments, and the other is under investigation. Is this the best we can do? Lord, have mercy.

Social media has turned out to be the perfect climate for anti-social behavior, especially divisive speech. In the documentary, The Social Dilemma, social media innovators were asked where they thought social media was taking our country. One asked, "Civil war?" Lord, have mercy.

Opioid deaths, teen suicides (especially among girls), and mass shootings are up. Math scores, length of employment, and a sense of fulfillment and hope are down. And racism just won’t go away. With our wealth, our freedom, and our heritage, is this the best we can do as a nation? Lord, have mercy.

Where might we look for help? In 2018 Britain created the world's first cabinet-level post to deal with the national problem of loneliness. A five-year reflection on progress concludes, "There are multiple ways that the problem is being addressed but loneliness is still pervasive and intense for many people." Lord, have mercy.

Will AI’s quantum leap forward save the day? It seems to offer us more and more control of our own lives. It's great to have Alexa and Siri as secretaries and house servants--so compliant, prompt, and knowledgeable. But AI also puts us more and more at the mercy of things/people/systems we can't see or understand.

  • To what did we just say "I agree" (without reading it) in order to log in to a new app?

  • Who is tracking our Internet usage, and what are they doing with that information?

  • Which scammers will perfect the impersonation of our telephone voices to con our friends or our banks?

  • Which gangs will replace drive-by shootings with drone attacks?

Lord, have mercy.

Six times in this post I have repeated, "Lord, have mercy." By now you may be asking, "Is this the best we can do--call on God for mercy?" Not exactly. Before we call on God for more mercy, let’s take a closer look at the mercy he has already extended to us. We may have been missing something that affects everything.

Many of us think we have personally accepted God's mercy as it is made available to us in Jesus's sacrifice of himself on the cross, but did we know what we were doing when we said, "I agree. I accept"? We may have turned Jesus's mercy into what I would call Canaanite mercy.

The Canaanites* believed they could seek mercy and favor from their gods (rain, fertility, victory in war) without building mercy into their lives, personally and nationally. The relationship with the gods depended on their religious rituals, that is, on the way they treated the gods not the way they treated people. In fact, they could sacrifice their children to please their gods!

We may claim we are different because the Canaanites were seeking earthly blessings and we are seeking a heavenly blessing, eternal life, or they were using a violent ritual approach and we are using non-violent faith. All this is beside the point. What matters to the Real God is neither the type of mercy request (earthly or heavenly blessings) nor the type of religious practice (ritual or word/faith). God wants us to get his connection between receiving mercy from God and showing mercy to people.

If we miss that connection, we have a Canaanite view of mercy. In flat contradiction to the repeated words of Jesus (Matthew 6.14-15), we assume that the mercy of Jesus works for us and gives us a desired relationship with God no matter how we treat people.

The Canaanite mistake often traps those today who have such a pathological fear of the idea of "salvation by works" that they classify showing mercy as a "work". Jesus did not share that fear or speak of mercy in that way, though neither did he ever come close to suggesting salvation by works. He had a third way, the authentic mercy way—showing mercy and forgiveness to those who sin against us.

That is what Mercy Season is about in the annual SYNC cycle.

Lord, have mercy, authentic mercy, and turn us into authentically merciful people, representing you well in the world you died for. We let go of any and all grudges or bitterness we have been holding. We look forward to celebrating the Day of Atonement on September 24-25, the climax of Mercy Season, as agents of your mercy.

* Biblical history note: The Canaanites were a cluster of ethnic groups who were living in the Promised Land (Canaan) at the time Israel invaded.

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