Pope Francis has said "How much wrong we do to God and His grace when we speak of sins being punished by His judgment before we speak of them being forgiven by His mercy."
Inspiring words. But I wonder if we really want them to be true.
Do we really want God to be willing to forgive anyone for anything?
What of all those who are so angry, so bitter, so aggrieved by the actions of a murderer or rapist that their cry is "I hope he rots in hell!"
One of my friends was murdered by someone to whom she'd unfailingly been a friend. Her murderer, a drug addict, strangled her so that he could grab and sell her cell phone. Imagine. Someone's life considered as being equal in worth to a cell phone. I follow her spirit, which was always one of forgiveness, and I pray for her murderer. But I wonder how I would feel, how I would pray - if I even COULD pray - if my son, daughter, husband, or grand-child were raped or murdered.
Yet, I think to myself, God had two children, Cain and Abel, and Cain murdered Abel. "The Lord then said: What have you done? Listen: Your brother's blood cries out to me from the soil!" (Genesis 4: 10.) God could have then annihilated Cain. Instead He sent Cain wandering restlessly through the wilderness and ordered that no one kill him, putting a mark on him - probably a tattoo - so that he would be recognized and left alone. Why? Why such self-restraint on God's part, when one child of His slew the other? Why such mercy? Especially since Cain's descendants continued the policy of murder; one of his descendants, Lamech, boasts "I have killed a man for wounding me, a boy for bruising me."
Jesus, God's only divine and human Son, God Himself, was tortured and murdered. Yet God did not destroy humankind in retaliation. God continued to love us as His sons and daughters! For God, in Jesus, had chosen to die for our sins. He loved us, and gave himself for us. He chose to reconcile Himself to us by bearing our sins, using His own bleeding body as the bridge across the unbridgeable abyss of sin that yawned between us.
When Jesus, God's Son, died, why didn't God annihilate us? Why, in fact, did both Father and Son choose to not only save us from ourselves, but also promise us eternal life? Why should God be so unfathomably, idiotically rich in mercy towards us? Such incredible love, mercy, and compassion is beyond a human being's understanding. Perhaps even beyond what we want of God. Why doesn't God just punish the guilty, send them to hell, and leave heaven for the righteous?
Cardinal Walter Kasper, in "Mercy: the Essence of the Gospel," recalls Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the Father is a representation of God the Father. In the story, the Father waits for his wandering, erring son (who has squandered his estate) to come home and, moved to compassion, runs to meet him when he sees his son returning. He puts his arm around the boy, kisses him, and places a ring on his finger, re-instating him as his son.
Kasper says "...the father's mercy exceeds every anticipated measure. His mercy takes its bearings from...the dignity of the son....In this parable, Jesus wants to say: Just as I act, so too does the Father act. The Father's mercy in this parable is the higher form of justice. We can also say: mercy is the most perfect realization of justice. Divine mercy leads human beings to 'a return to the truth about themselves.' God's mercy does not humiliate the person....
"Jesus also wants to say to us: your story is told in the story of the prodigal son. You yourself are this prodigal son; you too must repent. But have no fear.
God himself comes to meet you and takes you in his arms. He does not humiliate you; rather he gives you back your dignity as a son."
If the story of the Prodigal Son is also our story, we can't really ask God to punish the guilty and save heaven for the righteous - because we also are guilty. We also are guilty of sin and worthy of the annihilating wrath of God Who because of His own goodness must stand forever against all evil. But then, we must ask ourselves, what is the meaning of sin? What if we've never seriously broken any of the Ten Commandments?
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel offers us a different and penetrating insight into sin. He was one of millions of Jews imprisoned (many if not most were executed) with the silent complicity of his fellow Germans. He experienced his own father's brutal beating and dragging off to a crematorium; he saw infants thrown into the air and used for machine gun practice; he was forced to watch boys his own age as they slowly, agonizingly died from being hung. What does Jewish survivor Elie Wiesel think is the worst sin?
"Indifference to me is the epitome of all evil...To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all...Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere....We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor. never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe....THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE IS NOT HATE, IT'S INDIFFERENCE."
GOD'S MERCY IS SIMPLY THIS: GOD CHOSE TO NOT BE INDIFFERENT TO US. God chose to NOT be lukewarm about our suffering. God, perceiving a world riddled with violence, betrayal, starvation, and bloodshed cried out to all of us, as he once cried out to Cain "Your brother's blood cried out to me from the soil!"
Do Wiesel's words indict us? Could God say to us "I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth....Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent." (Revelation 3: 15-16; 19.)
When we are truthful with ourselves and remember the times in our lives when we have chosen to remain silent rather than speak out or act, when we have been indifferent to human suffering because we're no longer surprised that it happens, when we no longer remember that we are accountable to God for the way we treat and protect and speak up for His children, who are all those who live in this world - yes, then, all of us could easily end up being vomited out of the Lord's mouth. Because we are sinners. In justice, we are deserving of God's judgment and punishment rather than God's mercy.
From the cross, Jesus looked down on his persecutors and murderers and said "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Those whom he forgave were so much like us, lukewarm, willing to take the easy way out and condemn an innocent man rather than go up against public opinion. How often are we afraid to speak out because our group of friends might reject us?
Now we are ready to listen to Pope Francis' words: "How much wrong we do to God and His grace when we speak of sins being punished by His judgment before we speak of them being forgiven by His mercy."
We should be falling on our knees in gratitude. We should be overwhelmed by the fountain of mercy flowing from God's wounded heart. Every one of us has been dead in sin, and resurrected by the incomparable grace of His mercy.
Yet God does not humiliate us in our sin. He shows us the truth of ourselves, then restores us to our dignity as His sons and daughters. He lifts us up, takes us in His arms, kisses us tenderly, and leads us home.
And - knowing that God's heart holds all of us as His dear children - can we realize how sinful we'd be if we grew angry over or rejected His mercy for anyone else?