02 May 2020


Growing up, one of the most dreaded games you might have played on the playground was one of the most painful.  In a test of strength, you would interlock fingers with someone and attempt to bend them backwards.  The winner was the one who lasted the longest under that subtle form of torture.  You yielded by yelling out the code-word, which was the name of the game: "Uncle!"

I was usually the shortest kid in grade school, and this game was a favorite among the bigger kids to flaunt their power and stature.  Because my fingers were small, I was thought of as an easy target to beat.  However, I could last a fairly long time, due to the fact my bony knuckles would dig into my opponent’s fingers!

But, of course, the sheer strength of my opponent would win out, and inevitably, I would call, “Uncle” and give in.  But some of those immature bullies wouldn’t cease bending my fingers, necessitating my repeated cries of “Uncle” until finally I begged for mercy!

This childish game can readily depict what we think the concept of mercy is all about – a submissive person who is held captive by a harassing tyrant, then released – with both fingers and feelings left numb and bruised.

I hadn’t thought of this childish game in years until I came across a signature section in my Journey with Jeremiah.  The prophet seems to be the victim, as the Lord commanded him not to marry or have children (Jer. 16:1-2).  The Jewish culture viewed marriage and child-rearing as not only a blessing to be enjoyed but as obligatory.  It was your responsibility!  

Here, a dominating God seemingly prohibits Jeremiah from fulfilling his societal duty with His restrictive command.  Admittedly, the game of Uncle entered my brain upon reading this verse!  Why would God do this to poor Jeremiah, a man who desired nothing more than to serve and be compassionate to his people.

We often talk a lot about the grace of God in our Christian lives but not a lot about His mercy.  For me, I think it’s because I associate mercy with this schoolyard game.  But what is it?  Grace has often been defined as “getting something I don’t deserve” – like when I get a hug when I really deserve a rebuke.  But mercy is the opposite: “not getting what I truly deserve,” meaning I don’t receive punishment for a wrong I have done.

So, what’s the deal with God and Jeremiah?  Instead of playing the tyrant, here, the Lord reveals His perfect compassion.  With the coming judgment against the people of Judah for their willful disobedience and abandonment of a godly lifestyle, God actually spares Jeremiah from the heartache of loss that will come through captivity, disease, famine and destruction by their enemies!  As a tender-hearted man, I think Jeremiah would have been torn to pieces to watch his family be consumed like this.

Wow, Lord, what wonderful mercy You offered Your servant!  He and his people, sinful at birth, deserved punishment for sin.  And yet, You spared Jeremiah that grief and anguish.  I, too, have strayed from You more times than I can count in over 50 years of life.  I stand condemned in my willful disobedience, as well.  And yet, You show how much You love me by sparing me the consequences of my sin when I commit my life to You.

I’m reminded of 1 Peter 1:3-7 (NIV).  I praise God because, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5  who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7  These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 

The thing about God’s mercy – I may not see it until after the fact.  I may not have a tangible experience with it right now, but I do have the knowledge of it.  Through Jesus, He offers me hope, one that I can know right now – even through my trials and what I may perceive as injustices – and look to experience in person with Him on that Day.

I am grateful God compassionately spared Jeremiah.  And I am grateful He spares me from the wrath I deserve.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)

When have you cried “Uncle” in your life?   How did you experience God’s mercy?  Why did you receive it?  How will you share His mercy with others today?

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