God said through a prophet, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos. 6:6; Matt 9:13). Mercy is the ground for right relation to God. The call to mercy here is of a particular nature, planting the seed for reconciliation by speaking to the heart. In the Bible, forgiveness is linked to sacrificial death of Christ. Jesus dies for our sins, offering us free, but costly forgiveness. What does it mean for us to say, “I forgive you?”
Throughout the Bible there is an emphasis to forgive as we are forgiven by others. As Paul writes, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:12-13).
Jesus stressed the need for reconciliation over the demands of sacrificial worship (Matt. 5:24). He wanted his disciples to forgive their transgressors even before they formally came seeking forgiveness (Mk. 11:25). Jesus demonstrated and advocated mercy, active and deliberate, thereby excluding the retributive payback of vengeance and making way for love: “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Rom. 12:17; Prov. 20:22); “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). Example after example demonstrates mercy feeding forgiveness in Jesus’ own work. In the encounter with the woman engaged in adultery, sin is acknowledged by Jesus, but overcome by pardon’s grace (Jn. 8:1-11).
Forgiveness is inherently a creative act, which heals by restoring people to community. A plea to God for mercy is asking Him to withhold judgment we deserve and instead grant to us the forgiveness we have in no way earned. Imagine how the world would be if all of us act mercifully!