Hard Mercy

I knew something was up on Monday minutes after I published my latest blog post. I had more views within an hour than I normally have in an entire day. As time went on, I began to receive a lot of comments, another departure from the norm. While they were all civil, most were critical of what they perceived as my defense of Ravi Zacharias at the expense of his victims. Since Monday, I have had several conversations about the post and the issues that were raised, and I’ve been praying. The word that has kept coming to mind is mercy.

If you are a regular reader, then you know I spent two weeks following the Capitol Breach on January 6th reading, studying, and writing on the Sermon on the Mount, with a focus on the Beatitudes. In my final post in that series, “Persecuted,” I wrote about how countercultural the Sermon is and that Jesus was persecuted and killed because it went against what our flesh truly desires. Reading the Sermon from start to finish for 14 consecutive days, what stood out to me more than anything else was Jesus’ emphasis on mercy. 

  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 
  •  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
  •  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
  • “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
  • So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

All of these teachings are directly aimed at our flesh. We want to judge. We want to hit back. We want to treat others as we think they deserve. 

So how do these teachings inform us on how to handle situations such as the one involving Ravi Zacharias, a grievous and heartbreaking one, for sure? Where I believe I erred, which is so easy in the limited amount of space in a blog post, is not addressing the plight of his victims, which was the main focus of most of the comments. As a result, I think, it appeared to them that all my mercy was focused on Ravi and none toward his victims. Some were particularly offended by the phrase, “So as not to sully his name more than necessary…,” reminding me that he was a rapist, a predator, and unrepentant about it. I am sure that combined with the absence of any direct mention of his victims, for some, triggered a picture of another white, evangelical male protecting his own. So for that, I apologize. As one suggested, I should have taken into consideration how this may have been read by victims of abuse.

So let me state clearly now that what Ravi Zacharias did was reprehensible by any measure. What many in his organization did to protect him was inexcusable. In my last post, I spoke of the dangers of celebrity worship in the church. That problem has evolved because, frankly, we long ago lost our way in what the local church is to look like. Leaders want power and prestige; congregants want to be entertained and served. This is a very general statement with many exceptions, but this is why so many churches abuse their authority, are indifferent to some sins but not others, and do not have love as their primary motivation and mission. So many are institutions, not loving communities. 

As many pointed out, these women and others like them, victims of abuse by believers (or at least those claiming to be), have been betrayed by the very people who should show them the most love and mercy. Instead, they are so often blamed and shamed. It is not right. My hope is that Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) will follow through on their corporate confession and repentance by exhibiting the fruit of repentance. It is, in my mind, a powerful statement. What remains is a faithful follow-through on it. And churches who have allowed such things to happen without accountability should follow suit.

In Psalm 78, we read this about the Lord:

But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (vss. 36-39)

From God’s mercy flows grace and compassion, regardless of current attitudes toward him. We see this over and over again in the life of Jesus—to the woman caught in adultery; to Matthew the tax collector; to the city of Jerusalem; and to those responsible for crucifying him. He knew what we often forget, that there will come a time when God’s judgment is executed by him. And finally we see it in these words, “because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35)

As much as we may desire retribution or to see a person get his “just desserts,” we are told to leave room for God’s wrath. But in the meantime, he says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) 

My desire, then, not to “sully further” Ravi’s name was an act of mercy toward him and his family because it is evident from the life and teachings of Jesus that is what I am to do. If he has mercy on men like Matthew or Saul (Paul), or on the very people who are killing him, then who am I to withhold mercy just because I think a person’s behavior is so egregious or even if he is not repentant?  

As I told one person recently, in the end we each have to fall on the mercy of God or we will perish. I am in just as much need of the Lord’s mercy as any murderer or sexual predator. When we are poor in spirit, we recognize that.

This is a hard mercy, because it does not come naturally. Yet, there it is in the Word and in the life of Jesus. We have no option if we want to be obedient. Mercy, however, does not imply no consequences; rather that the consequences flow from mercy rather than hate or revenge. There is a huge difference. 

I know this is a difficult teaching for many, particularly for those who have been abused in some way. Our hearts cry out for retribution, not mercy. However, we have to trust Jesus is telling us and showing us the truth. Following him is hard, but is always the best way.

© Jim Musser 2021 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.

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