I have heard these words used in both spiritual and secular settings (though I believe there to be only true setting) all of my life. In each and every context it seems that the depth of meaning found in each is somewhat lost. Oftentimes, the words are even used interchangeably as if there were no distinguishing characteristics to them at all. Truth is, this has only recently begun to bother me. I, too, have most likely tossed these words much too loosely. Perhaps it is only through a time when faced with absolute implementation of these words as true actions will one realize their plain and clear uniqueness. Nonetheless, I will try to differentiate herein.
Mercy says, “I have the absolute and just right to deliver retribution for the wrong you have done, but I choose not to.”
Now, contrary to popular belief, this does not mean that the debt is simply wiped away. Every wrong action has consequences. The fact that I do not make you replace the vase you have broken does not mean that the loss has vanished. It means that I have chosen to take that loss upon myself. Value I once possessed is gone. The net worth of my collection is decreased. And if I am able to find a replacement vase, I will acquire it from my own accounts. In much the same way, mercy applied to an emotional wrongdoing does not mean that justice has vanished from the scene; it means that the pleasure of revenge or vengeance has been withheld and I will bear that burden upon myself, justice has been self-imposed.
Forgiveness says, “I will not hold this charge against you in my heart.”
Consequences, whether natural or imposed, are completely independent from the ideal of forgiveness. Those are left to the realm of mercy. Forgiveness is a choice to be made whether mercy is offered or not. It is entirely possible, and oftentimes right, to withhold mercy and still offer forgiveness. I think it absolutely appropriate and necessary to imprison a rapist. In fact, I would more easily support the death penalty for such a crime than for even murder. Yet, the woman who was violated may offer forgiveness. As such, that forgiveness is not necessarily delivered in person and perhaps is not even spoken at all. Forgiveness is simply a release from within. Forgiveness allows for the absence of hatred and contempt. In this way, forgiveness is essential to free the offended from the power of the offense.
Grace says, “I will show you favor that is completely undeserved and unearned.”
In its purest sense, grace operates completely independent of any prior offense. One may choose to randomly or specifically show favor to another simply because it is their desire to do so. For instance, I may walk into the local shopping center with a clip of ten dollar bills in my pocket and hand them out to strangers as they pass by. This would meet the definition of grace, but is somewhat undistinguishable from general charity or perhaps even frivolousness. Because of this, I believe the term grace is most appropriately applied within the context of an offense. Again, mercy operates completely independent from grace; though one may choose to offer mercy as a part of their chosen demonstration of grace. Forgiveness, in the case of a prior offense however, is somewhat of a prerequisite to pure grace. While I suppose it is possible to show favor to the offender without forgiving them, that does not carry the glory I believe grace to represent. True grace has power:
- grace has the power to restore broken relationships
- grace has the power to rebuild broken homes
- grace has the power to renew failed love
- grace has the power to wake the dead
- grace has the power to realize the impossible
Grace has The Power.