The Immensity of God's Mercy


Hosea 14:1-4; 6:6

Mtt. 18:21-35

Rev. Kit Billings

March 28, 2004

Heavenly Secrets 5585 And in Moses, My anger will flare up against this people on that day, so that I forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they will be devoured. I will certainly hide My face on that day, because of all the evil which they have done. Deut. 31:17, 18. 'Anger flaring up' stands for turning oneself away, 5034, and 'hiding one's face' for not showing any compassion. [6] These actions are attributed to Jehovah or the Lord, for the reason that although He is never angry and never turns away or hides His face He is said to do so because that is how it seems to someone under the influence of evil. For the person under the influence of evil turns himself away and hides the Lord's face from himself; that is, he removes His mercy from himself.

This week in the news we witnessed something extraordinary in my opinion. The ex-counter terrorism chief of the White House, Richard Clarke, testified before the 9-11 Commission on Capital Hill, and he began his testimony in this way. He started by admitting to the 3,000 (or so) families who lost loved ones on 9-11 that their United States government failed them, and that he failed them. Then, he asked for their forgiveness. I hesitate to begin my sermon like this because I have no desire to promote who is right and who is wrong regarding 9-11. Both sides have their views. However, Richard Clarke's dramatic opening before the Commission is noteworthy for two reasons. He reminded us of how healing it can be to say, I'm sorry. And, that whatever degree we may feel we have failed one another, there is always room for asking for mercy and forgiveness. These were his words to the families still hurting from 9-11: "Your government failed you, and I failed you," he said. "We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed you. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness."

The disaster that struck our country on September 11, 2001 was the worst act of war to hit United States soil ever; we lost more lives that day in the destruction of the World Trade towers, at the Pentagon, and elsewhere than on the attack at Pearl Harbor. If there were failures on the part of our government leaders, do you believe they have the right to ask for mercy, for forgiveness? Is it possible to have mercy on mistakes that cost thousands of lives?

Some people believe that Vietnam was a big, unnecessary war—a mistake. Tens of thousands of human beings lost their loved ones in that lengthy war. Swedenborg's most concise definition of “God's mercy” is that it is love grieving. He wrote that God's mercy desires the salvation of the entire human race, and works constantly to help us achieve this, even though the reality is that in freedom, some people choose ultimately the life of hell. In his book, Wilson's Ghost, Robert S. McNamara wrote that the Vietnam war could have been ended early on several occasions, but that the generals involved in it essentially preferred that it continue. Their lust for power won their hearts. Thousands of Americans and Vietnamese lost their lives or were greatly maimed. Should we or can we have mercy on them? And what of God's mercy? Does it have limits? How does the Lord's mercy handle our sin? How crucial is Divine mercifulness for our salvation?

MERCY plays a big role in the Bible…in God's holy Word. According to our church teachings, the Lord's mercy fills the very first verses of Genesis. Genesis 1:2 reads: “…the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Swedenborg wrote that in these words is meant that the Lord's mercy, which is said to “move”, or “brood,” as a hen broods over her eggs. These early verses in Genesis, which poetically describe the first six days of creation are one of many areas of the Bible which were never intended to be taken literalistically. Through the gift of light revealed through the Lord's spiritual Second Coming, we discover that these passages are blessed due to their inner meaning--that sacred degree of inner truth which reveals enormously important truth for our lives.

God gave us science to unlock the mysteries of nature. In the ancient story of the six days of creation, the Lord would have us learn about the six vital stages of spiritual development that every human being must travel before becoming an angel fit for Heaven's degree of love and wisdom. Before growing gradually through these stages, our true spiritual greatness is something yet to be attained with God's tremendous help and power to transform our will from being self-centered to love-centered. Spiritually and intellectually, on the conscious level of life, we all start out life as a form that is “void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” We are blessed as infants with deeply beautifully remains from Heaven, remnants of angelic goodness, mercy, and impressions of truth stored up mercifully by God within our subconscious mind. The human natural will, however, inherits from ancient and present humanity a leaning toward evil or selfishness, however, and yet God makes sure we are balanced out inside through the Redemption of Himself Incarnate in Jesus Christ, as well as in a deep gift of spiritual remains in childhood. But it will typically take a lifetime of gradual, sometimes very hard and painful, yet also glorious and wonderful!, spiritual regeneration to thoroughly turn away from the allurement of selfishness toward the warmth and peace of steadfast love. Our theology reveals that without God's constant mercy brooding over us, from the time of our birth to our death, we would rush headlong into hell every day of our lives, choosing our baseness over our goodness each and every day. Thus we see, that in reality, it is God's Divine Mercy that saves us—or rather, the Lord's compassionate, forgiving LOVE which daily lifts our lives into the light of freedom…the light of good will and the wisdom of what is good and true…which gives us the power to choose for Christ.

God's mercy provides a loving, compassionate seedbed, therefore, for life. Like young little seeds lying patiently within the warm soil of Springtime, God shines His merciful Love upon us and helps us sprout and grow into beautiful Daffodils, open to absorbing our true inheritance from our Creator—the Light of goodness and wisdom. I find the drama and storyline of the Bible to be an accurate image of what we all go through to fully inherit the promise of God to become an angel. There are many highs and lows we go through, lots of learning. Many miraculous and wonderful things take place through life, an enormous amount of growth! A period of spiritual greatness may be found, imaged in the dynasty of King David and Solomon. And yet typically, many instances of downfall, tragedy and suffering also come—as Solomon chose to indulge in the practices of false religions around him, taking some 300 concubines and building shrines for their gods, forsaking his love and worship of the Lord, his true God. Invariably, we have many temptations and trials to go through, many bloody battles to fight, with the Lord's army of angels at the ready. And perhaps inevitably, at some point in adulthood, just as King Solomon did so long ago, we will discover times when we, like the children of Israel in ancient times, choose to betray our relationship with the Lord, choosing instead some form of spiritual idolatry, because it can seem to feel better to live in doubt and fear (for our natural will), for example, rather than in faith and courage each day. All such downfalls, however, were permitted that the people who made them could LEARN—which enables the truly spiritual depth of will and understanding to take the lead within us.

The Book of Hosea is such a moving Hebrew book to me. God speaks to His unfaithful people as those who have lived the life of a harlot. Indeed, at certain times of our adult life, we too may discover that a path of sinfulness may be our downfall. Our days of glory may at times fade away, and our need for mercy rises high into the clouds above us. Hosea, as in many passages of the literal Word, opens up to the healing truth we may be thirsting for: “…for in You [O God] the fatherless find mercy and compassion. I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, [says the Lord] for my anger has turned away from them.” Truly, no matter how far we may stray, the love and mercy of God is there to bring us home.

The final phrase of this passage is worth exploring today. It says that God can get angry. The literal sense of the Bible says likewise that the Lord gets even wrathful with us, can be condemning and punishing…can be unforgiving at times. These passages hold a deeper meaning within them, which the Lord's Second Coming made sure to unlock for all eternity. When human beings choose the way of evil, then it is not the Lord who turns away His mercy, nor does He ever become angry or vengeful.

Indeed, while being selfish and mean in my heart at some point in life, God's presence and Light of Love will feel extremely unpleasant…seemingly putting me in the torments of hell. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Bad choices put a person in torment…evil attitudes and willful inclinations produce the APPEARANCE that God is angry with us. When we behave very childishly, then a caring and determined God (our Divine Parent) may appear to be against us. But seriously, such seeming disgust on God's part is the inevitable (yet momentary) effect of we ourselves turning away from God that makes it feel very much like the Lord's mercy has ended. The literal or natural degree of the holy Word was written by men struggling at times with their own unregenerateness…their own low degree of spiritual awareness. In their minds, God seemed to be wrathful and vengeful, yet the truth was (and is today) that God's Love and mercy were constant and abiding, which comes through or shines through into the literal degree of the holy Scriptures in many places to be sure. Yet it is also true, as Swedenborg learned, that God is also full of zeal. The Lord passionately protects the Kingdom of Heaven, and protects our freedom here on earth. There are times when He comes ever so near to an evil person simply to keep them in check. God will draw near the hells as well to limit the spirits there when needed. The Lord can appear to be vengeful at these times, but is actually just bringing His incredibly powerful and infinite Love to bear, inspiring holy fear, agony and dread in those God is policing.

The life and wisdom of Christ revealed this truth by and large, although even He, given the condition of humanity back then, could not constantly reveal Divine Love and Truth in its inner glory and beauty to a people unprepared to see and feel the ENORMITY and IMMENSITY of God's Infinite Love, which is the real Essence of life itself. The stark and harsh words of the Lord, as with the many passages in the Old Testament that thunder down with terrific judgment on the wayward Israelites, show that the Lord is more than His Essence of Infinite Love and Mercy—He is also Divine Truth and Understanding. The point being that when we, His children, do wrong, then it's crucial that we hear and know about it. True mercy, for it to be mercy, is wedded to JUSTICE. And given how either hard-hearted (or how profoundly wounded and hard-headed) many people are at times in life, the natural degree of God's Word as it sits down here on this rocky, sometimes unforgiving, stuff we call earth, needs to be the voice of a tough-minded judge. Just to get through to us natural-minded folk, who sometimes are not raised at home with nearly enough love and mercy in childhood, the Bible needs to shout at us to wake us up and smell the coffee at times!

STOP WORSHIPPING YOUR IDOLS! Watch out for living a life that betrays My relationship with you, says the Lord! You've got one shot down here on earth, and wasting it away will be dangerous in the eternal long run.

But lest we miss the truth about the real Spirit of the One True God of the universe, our Incarnate Lord made sure to reveal things to us that shine with the glory of His Infinitely merciful nature. Before God Incarnated as Christ, He spoke through the prophet Zecharia: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'” And in His Sermon on The Mount, Jesus preached so beautifully, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

The Lord truly brought the degree of mercifulness that the angels enjoy into this plane of reality here on earth, which we are ALL blessed to inherit from our Creator as we walk courageously into the Promised Land of spiritual life each day, symbolized by the Land of Canaan—however, our teachings also reveal that even the best revelations of God's Divine mercy are still only partial. God's mercy is simply beyond our comprehension!! Christ revealed His mercy in part by His reply to Peter, who thought he had taken the ancient Jewish regulation of forgiving someone three times who continues to offend us to a respectable new level by offering seven times to Jesus. In response, the Lord tells Peter, “Seventy times seven,” which was code for never-ending mercy and forgiveness my friend. Christ followed this short bit of truth with a parable.

A servant owed his master a great deal of money. In Jesus' day, the sum of money owed by the slave was more than thirty times the annual revenue for even a wealthy province like Galilee! In today economy we're talking literally millions of dollars which the servant owed his master. Here was a debt greater than a king's ransom! The slave begged his master to forgive his debt and the master forgives the man's debt, revealing divine mercy at work. The servant, however, takes a fellow-servant by the throat, demanding he repay his debt, which was just a few dollars worth at best. The man shown enormous mercy chose to show no mercy whatsoever, and had the other servant thrown into jail. The master finds out about this and chides him for his non-compassionate nature. The master sends the unmerciful servant to the torturers until all of his debt is paid.

The moral of the story? Part of our life's purpose is to discover God's mercifulness as part of our own heart and soulfulness. Jesus said in effect that He will not stop the hellish tormenters from gaining access to you, should you choose to not, from your heart, forgive your brother his trespasses.

The Lord is always merciful. He is not angry and condemning. Zealous at times yes, but not wrathful. Committed to justice yes, but nothing more. As God's good child, so can you ultimately feel and know genuine mercy, even if it is your turn to administer discipline to the child or teenager you love. Be merciful, just as God is merciful with you, every day of your life. Thus, here is the answer for the families who lost their loved ones in 9-11. The request made by Richard Clarke, a man admitting failure, is a sound one. As Swedenborg wrote so well, those will enjoy entering Heaven after death who receive Heaven within them while on earth. Mercy is the air they all breathe in Heaven, and it is your birthright every day, in God's good name. Amen.