The Ocean of God’s Mercy

Susan Anne

The cool waters of the shoreline keep lapping at my ankles, and I sink deeper into the spiky sand with the pull of each outgoing wave. Remaining upright becomes an art, with the sea tugging at my footing and the horizon tugging at my eyes and heart.

Swelling beyond the last reaches of land, beyond dark shoal islands, and beyond the faintly blinking ships, float and crest only more waves and more water. Where sea meets sky I cannot tell. The ocean seems to go on forever, reaching into and becoming a part of the hazy blue sky. “For thy mercy is magnified even to the heavens: and thy truth unto the clouds.” (Psalm 56:11)

On this warm evening, salty air whips through dune grass, propelling bits of sand like darts through the air as sea gulls sound in protest. Their caws are the last material thing anchoring my mind to earth. Mystery melds with material creation, belaying understanding; while pondering the magnitude of this huge body of water before me, the mystery of God’s mercy towards sinners pulls my mind deeper with each new wave of thought.

God Does Not Consume Us

Here is a sea so vast and so powerful that it could surge and consume all life before it that walks upon land; yet it only meets the shoreline with the gentlest of waves. Ever caressing, never ceasing, wave after wave, rough sand is lifted up, sifted and sorted, and returned to lie smooth. “Yet in thy very many mercies, thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them: because thou art a merciful and gracious God.” (Nehemiah 9:31) Not because our sins are not as great as the sands, but because God is God, he does not consume us; he is merciful.

“Will you not then fear me, saith the Lord: and will you not repent at my presence? I have set the sand a bound for the sea, an everlasting ordinance, which it shall not pass over: and the waves thereof shall toss themselves, and shall not prevail: they shall swell, and shall not pass over it.” (Jeremiah 5:22)

If God, who is all deserving of our love, treats so mercifully of sinners as to set boundaries preventing their destruction, who are we to lash out at others? Who are we to spill over the bounds of charity in our anger or swollen fury or pharisaical self righteousness?

Where Ocean Meets Sky

In our interactions with others, we should at all times endeavor to represent the vast ocean of God’s mercy. Just as God deals with us by his repeated waves of graciousness, so should we be towards our fellow man. Holding no grudges, retaining no debts, and without judgment, we should swell to meet our fellow man where he stands at the edge, uncertain.

Let our actions in our daily lives be an ever caressing balm of comfort to those whose lives may be weary and battered, living on the edge where sand and water collide. With gentleness and patience, we should calm and smoothe his anxieties, reassuring him that God forgives a multitude of sins and desires all men should draw near to Him. Let the truth in our words be the pulling of our neighbors minds and hearts ever more towards an understanding of His forgiveness.

May we help them remain upright should their eyes gaze towards that edge where ocean meets sky, where sin meets forgiveness; and may they find that our mercies mirror those of God — magnified to the heavens. “And God gave to Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart as the sand that is on the sea shore.” (1 Kings 4:29)

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13 thoughts on “The Ocean of God’s Mercy”

  1. With images of serenity, Susan, you have meditated on the mercy of God and the corollary that has for our dealings with others. That God is Love and that His mercy endures forever is something that we as sinners need to believe in, otherwise we would ultimately despair. On the other hand, the one clause of the Lord’s Prayer that I suspect most people pay the least attention to is the latter half of the petition, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We all want to be forgiven, but when we feel we have been wronged in some way (especially when there seems to be no repentance on the side of the one who has wronged us), we usually want to revenge rather than to forgive. The current (and inveterate) situation between the Israelis and the Palestinian jihadists in Gaza is a case in point. Hate begets hate; there is no turning of the cheek or praying for the one who has done harm. The Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount seem beyond human reach for many, if not most people, even seemingly pious Christians. But with God all things are possible, and with prayerful meditations such as yours one can come to the point where one can say with St. Paul, ” I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”–even to love and forgive our enemies.

    1. Roberto, thank you for your comment. I might be the first to despair if I believed God was merciless. As you said, we “need to believe in” God’s mercy. I think it would be impossible to say whether most people ignore parts of prayers, or whether most people want to exact revenge rather than forgive. What accurate study can be made of such things? Human nature is experienced by all of us in a large enough degree to provide us with samples of unforgiving, vengeful people. That being said, there is much debate about defining forgiveness. To some, forgiveness requires a clean slate, and everything gets to start over again at square one, as if nothing had ever happened. To others, it is reasonable and within the bounds of charity to acknowledge certain unrepentant offenders as likely to cause harm or injury again, and to avoid them, or preempt their dangerous moves as necessary. Self protection does not indicate a lack of forgiveness, nor does it deny the offender mercy. In fact, by taking action against an offender’s behavior, we might just be exercising the mercy of correction where nobody else had the courage to do so. It’s a thought.

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  3. My sole quibble (and it is a small one, perhaps better suited to a different article) is this: In my life, I have had to learn that it is good to balance mercy one extends to those who’ve hurt us with the willingness to set boundaries appropriate to us.

    I have had to endure a fair bit of criticism from family members over boundaries I’ve set re. folks who’ve hurt me. “forgive’ becomes the mantra, over and over. As I have seen and learned, one can forgive, but sometimes, forgiveness must come with a ‘do not cross’ line as well.

    1. Absolutely, JDM! Charity is not inconsistent with mercy & forgiveness. We have a duty to set healthy boundaries out of charity for ourselves. Forgiveness is not defined as allowing ourselves to be abused in any way. Note that even PJPII, who visited his assassin to offer forgiveness, only did so because it was reasonable that another attempt would not be made on his life. His assassin safely behind bars, with guards all around.

  4. I second the idea of mirroring God to those we interact with, and mercy is definitely one of those qualities of God we must share with others. I disagree God’s mercy does not allow for anger or is incompatible with it. I also disagree God’s mercy does not allow for judgment, debt, and even rebuke/correction. Here you’ve walked that blurry line where God’s mercy seems to be at odds with God’s justice. God’s mercy is not at odds with his justice in any way. They live together in perfect harmony. As Jesus showed us in the temple when he drove out the money changers, anger is clearly part of mercy. As Jesus showed us when he cursed the unproductive fig tree and it withered and died, judgment is also clearly part of mercy. As the Church shows us with the doctrine of purgatory, debt is also part of mercy. So yes, we should also present the merciful God who ever wishes to wash us all clean of our sin, but that comes after an acknowledgement of sin and it’s effects on the human soul and relationship to God are acknowledged and presented. What is odd to me is that most people whom I converse with that are believers, don’t have any trouble at all believing that God is merciful. In fact, they’re so convinced of his infinite mercy that they feel no need to go to confession or avoid mortal sin, because they are sure in their heart that God will see the “good person” they really are and forgive them even if they don’t particularly feel there’s anything to be forgiven for. It seems that today, what many Christians and agnostics have a problem believing is God’s justice. They find it hard to believe they really offended God by fornicating with their boyfriend. They find it really hard to believe their relationship with God has been badly damaged by their inordinate desire for money and all it provides. In a day when many believe they’re going straight to heaven when they die, I find it difficult to believe don’t know about God’s mercy. It seems to me it’s God’s justice they don’t know about.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Cindy. There is a beautiful relationship of justice and mercy, indeed. My post addresses the opposite extreme you discussed. I have met those who presume upon God’s mercy, as you described, but I have also met those who have not been shown mercy in a palpable way by Catholics, but rather, rash judgement and condemnation. My post is aimed to promote the understanding that we should not be less patient or kind to others than God is to us.

    2. Dear Susan and Cindy, In your posts you just gave a beautiful example of why the Catholic Church is, “Both And” and not “Either Or”.

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