Psalm 86:15 – But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
What’s the difference?
God is gracious and merciful. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I use these terms interchangeably. I don’t know if I even usually think about the difference between them. I was thinking, if there wasn’t a difference, why would the Psalmist use both words? To be poetic? Possibly, but I think the words were chosen more deliberately.
Merciful – Full of Mercy
So what does mercy mean?
1. compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power;compassion, pity, or benevolence: Have mercy on the poor sinner.
2. the disposition to be compassionate or forbearing: an adversary wholly without mercy.
3. the discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, especially to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty.
4. an act of kindness, compassion, or favor: She has performed countless small mercies for her friends and neighbors.
5. something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing: It was just a mercy we had our seat belts on when it happened.
God is Merciful
Again, I love the study of words. It is amazing how full the word mercy is when you look at all its meanings. Having a merciful God means that he has compassion on me. He is compassionate without me deserving it. I may deserve death, but God is merciful to me and changes my sentence from death to life with Him in heaven. He performed His biggest act of mercy or compassion on me when He saved me from my sins by sending His son Jesus to die for me. I deserved to go to hell, because of my sins that turned me away from Him, but instead he was merciful and provided me a way out so that I might not end up in hell, but in heaven with Him.
God is Gracious
So we know that gracious and merciful often go together, so what can be added by including gracious to the list of who God is? Well let’s see if the definition of gracious helps us figure that out at all.
1. Characterized by kindness and warm courtesy.
2. Characterized by tact and propriety: responded to the insult with gracious humor.
3. Of a merciful or compassionate nature.
4. Condescendingly courteous; indulgent.
5. Characterized by charm or beauty; graceful.
6. Characterized by elegance and good taste: gracious living.
7. Archaic Enjoying favor or grace; acceptable or pleasing.
We see by the third definition that, yes, grace is closely related to mercy. Grace is to have that merciful nature, or should I say you can’t be gracious without having a merciful nature. I like the first definition of God being described as having kindness and a warm courtesy. Today I’m going to see my Great Aunt and Uncle. They have that gift. That kindness and warm courtesy. Maybe you know someone who has that too. How does it feel to enter their home. Are you uncomfortable? NO! They make you feel good and welcomed. God wants that for us as well. He’s not trying to make us feel bad, but instead he wants us to shed our old ways so we can have nothing standing in our own way from enjoying Him to the fullest.
It’s funny, while the other definitions may not seem like they are directly related to who God is, they too make a fuller, richer picture of what it means to be gracious, and all of those things are true about our Lord.
Merciful and Gracious
God is not only going to give us another chance at life, but He’s going to be gracious in the way He does it. Because of His mercy we are able to enjoy His favor and grace as He makes us acceptable and pleasing to Him. May we grow in grace and mercy for those around us as a reflection of the grace and mercy we have received.