Last night at the dinner table, we were discussing our Fighter Verse for this week at church (Exodus 34.6-7). When God speaks about himself, the first thing he says is, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…’. I asked the two older girls which of those things about God was their favourite.
One of our girls thought that ‘merciful’ might be her favourite, but she wasn’t sure what mercy was. So we tried helping her understand the difference between mercy and grace. DA Carson talks about the difference between mercy and grace in this way:
The two terms are frequently synonymous; but where there is a distinction between the two, it appears that grace is a loving response when love is undeserved, and mercy is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one on whom the love is to be showered. Grace answers the undeserving; mercy answers the miserable. (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Confrontation with the World, 24-25)
Now, of course I didn’t cite Carson to my four year-old. But we did try to show her that grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s goodness to those (like us) who don’t deserve to know his goodness and couldn’t help ourselves. I think they got it.
So I asked them, ‘What are some ways that God has been merciful to us?’ I expected the usual Sunday School answers (‘Jesus!’) and not much more. What one of my daughters said, though, really gave me cause to pause and consider. She simply said ‘He spoke.’
Studying and preaching the opening chapters of Genesis over the past little while has forced me to think about the relationship of science and biblical interpretation all over again. It was with great interest that I read Richard Belcher’s review of C. John Collins’ new book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (HT: Challies)
I have not read Collins’ book, so I’m in no position to comment on it (spoiler alert: Collins affirms the historical existence of Adam & Eve). But something Belcher said stuck out to me.
From the Confessions, Book IV, chapter 12.
If the things of the world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love away from them and give it to their Maker, so that in the things that please you you may not displease him. If your delight is in souls, love them in God, because they too are frail and stand firm only when they cling to him. If they do not, they go their own way and are lost. Love them, then, in him and draw as many with you to him as you can. Tell them, ‘He is the one we should love. He made the world and he stays close to it.’ For when he made the world he did not go away and leave it. By him it was created and in him it exists. Where we taste the truth, God is there. He is in our very inmost hearts, but our hearts have strayed from him. Think well on it, unbelieving hearts (Is 46.8) and cling to him who made you. Stand with him and you shall not fall; rest in him and peace shall be yours. What snags and pitfalls lie before you? Where do your steps lead you? The good things which you love are all from God, but they are good and sweet only as long as they are used to do his will. They will rightly turn bitter if God is spurned and the things that come from him are wrongly loved.
You can read the Confessions online for free here.
I had an opportunity today to realize just how powerful general revelation can be. Call me crazy, but working in Niagara Falls, I very rarely actually look at the falls. Today, however, during a break at work, I sat and watched one of the most elegant and beautiful displays of God’s power in nature that the world knows for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t help but be filled with a longing for God and for all his glory to be revealed in all its splendour and majesty. I think it was something along the lines of what CS Lewis called “homesickness”. I was drawn… and I can’t help but feel that I’m not alone.
It cannot be denied that there is some mystically divine draw, some special allure to the power and majesty of God that is revealed in nature. Millions of people every year stream to Niagara Falls. It is the honeymoon capital of the world! Why is that? Is it because there are casinos and nice hotels? No… those are there to capitalize on the people that were coming anyway. Rather, people come to Niagara Falls to fall in love, get married, spend their honeymoon, or just to get away, because of the special emotional and spiritual draw to such a place… to such a wonder.
The problem, of course with discussing this draw is similar to the problem of describing why a joke is funny. By the time you’re done analyzing it, it is completely demystified, and the mystery is never done justice. It’s like trying to explain why just looking at my wife still gives me such a thrill inside… it makes me quiver and smile and want to woo her all over again. But how can you explain why there is that pull? It is, to be sure, more than the sum of its composing parts.
But the effect cannot be denied. God has revealed himself and men the whole world over search for him. And what Augustine said so many hundreds of years ago still rings true in our world today: “You (God) made us for yourself, and our hearts have no rest till they find it in you.” God himself is the true sovereign joy, he calls us to himself in things like Niagara Falls by giving us just a hint of the wonder and splendour and majesty and beauty and glory that are his… and we long for that joy. We long for that God, our maker, who knows us intimately, who longs to establish his glory by granting us that ultimate soul-satisfying joy that defeats and casts out any former joy we ever could have known in our sin! What a great God!
But… alas, then it was back to work. It’s just interesting to me how it only takes a brief moment to notice all that and to fall all the more in love with our God. But yet how often we go through the day spending hours and hours on meaningless things and never even notice that the wonder all around us was there to be beheld if only we would pause and look…