My first semester at Texas A&M University, I was required to take Analytical Geometry. My teacher was a former seminary student (come to think of it, so was my Calculus teacher!) Generally it wasn’t a difficult course but it had its moments.

One of them came with a particularly difficult problem we had for homework. I really didn’t know how to solve it, so I bluffed my way through it the best I could. At the top of the page I placed the following:

Needless to say he picked up on it immediately, and wrote “NO MERCY: 8.” Fortunately it was 8 out of 10; that result exceeded my expectations.

Evidently he was quite impressed with this show of Greek, so, in handing the papers back, he wrote my heading out on the board, pointing out that it appeared on my paper, and informing the class that he had in fact shown no mercy. One of the students, obviously unaware that any Aggie would know Greek, asked, “How did he manage to write that?”

“It was said by a very famous man,” the teacher replied.

That “very famous man,” of course, is Jesus Christ, and the passage in English is “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7.) It is one of the Beatitudes, which open His Sermon on the Mount. The theme of being merciful and of forgiveness runs through the Gospel; in the next chapter, after the Lord’s Prayer He says again, “For and if ye shall forgive other men their trespasses, your father in heaven shall also forgive you. But and ye will not forgive men their trespasses, no more shall, your father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15, Tyndale) Forgiveness is not just a nice thing to do; for the Christian, forgiveness is mandatory for eternal life.

And forgiveness is in short supply these days.  Today we live in a bitter, divided society with a record incarceration rate and creeping euthanasia. Schools call the police for acts that, a generation or two ago, would occasion a call to the parents. Makes one think of Thomas Hobbes’ characterisation of life as “brutish and short.”

God’s standard for forgiveness–from Him and from us–has not changed. If we do not forgive, we are tormented in this life and the life to come. There are certainly earthly consequences for the things that people do, but these should not be confused with our response of forgiveness. And what others do should never obscure the need for us to seek forgiveness of our own sins from God. Our “zero-tolerance” society teaches us that no one is free from mistakes. But our God sent His Son to eradicate those mistakes and make us a way to eternal life.

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