The Part About Mercy I Left Out of the Sermon

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Verse 9b: “Abhor What Is Evil”

On June 5/6 I exhorted you to build your lives on the mercies of God in Jesus Christ. “I appeal to you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God . . .” (Romans 12:1). The part I left out is that mercy toward one person may require opposition, even pain, toward another.

We will see this when we get to verse 9. Back to back: love and hate. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil.” The word “abhor” is really strong. When you love deeply, you must hate passionately. Why? Because there are evils in the world that would destroy the beloved. If you are indifferent to what would destroy the one you love, you do not love.

The painful reality is that this evil almost always lodges in the heart of another human being. This means that hating the evil that humans can do to humans involves opposing the desires and actions of some people. That opposition (like Jesus’ opposing the Pharisees with fierce words, or driving the money-changers out of the temple) is not tender and may not look merciful. It may look at first like worldly anger and revenge. The difference is that mercy weeps with longing while it hates the evil.

Jesus embodied this in one vivid scene from Mark 3:5 where merciless leaders opposed his healing on the Sabbath: “He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” Anger and grief.  Hatred of evil and tears. Mercy grieves over the evil that it must oppose.

Mercy is not absolute. We cannot even know what mercy is until we know an absolute good besides mercy. Mercy aches to do people good. But until we know what is ultimately good for people, mercy doesn’t know what to do. Therefore, mercy is not absolute. Christ is absolute. What is ultimately good for people is knowing and trusting and being satisfied with Christ. Mercy pities people who do not have this good. Mercy gets angry at forces in the world that discount Christ and keep people from seeing and trusting and loving Christ. But, like Jesus, Christian mercy looks on the world “with anger, grieved.” It weeps as it opposes. Until we are able to weep over evil, we are probably not ready to fight evil.

One clear illustration of the way mercy demands abhorrence is Judge Phyllis Hamilton’s nullification on June 1 of the ban on partial birth abortion. The congress had passed this ban into law in March of this year. The procedure of delivering a viable child part way out of the mother, then sucking the brains out of his or her head is barbaric. The defense of it by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in Sunday’s paper is appalling. Words fail to describe the outrage appropriate.

Here is the key sentence from the article in Sunday’s paper: “Considerable evidence shows the procedure is often the safest option for a woman undergoing a lamentable late-term abortion.” Think about that. Translation: “When a woman decides to kill her baby in the third trimester, the way to do it with least difficulty to the mom is to deliver the baby part way and then suck his brains out.”

This is the world we live in. Without the biblical description about the depth of sin, it would be incomprehensible. What should mercy do? Defend the voiceless, helpless children. Offer every assistance to the mom before and after birth. Oppose the defenders of child-killing. And weep while you work. I thank God that thousands of crisis pregnancy centers around the country do that. Support them. And ask the Lord what more you should do.

Longing to be a merciful person in a very evil world,

John Piper