Yesterday’s Photo a Day subject was forgive; today’s is mercy. So what is the difference between forgiving and showing mercy? The dictionary defines forgive as “to grant pardon for or remission of; absolve. To give up all claim on account of; remit. To grant pardon to. To cease to feel resentment against.” It defines mercy as “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence.”
It’s a pretty fine distinction. I’m not even sure I understand the subtleties completely based on these definitions. But to me, the difference is that mercy is given to an offender who is under your power. Mercy is undeserved forgiveness. Mercy is the byproduct of love and compassion. Forgiveness can be given grudgingly. Mercy cannot.
Some of the most beautiful words ever written about mercy are spoken by Portia in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”:
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
Here are a few other wise words about mercy, spoken by the famous and not-so-famous:
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” – Abraham Lincoln
“For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” – G.K. Chesterton
“The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon the black horse of affliction.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
“Mercy is the stuff you give to people who don’t deserve it.” – Joyce Meyer
“Because it strikes me there is something greater than judgment. I think it is called mercy.” – Sebastian Barry
Mercy is given when judgment and justice are deserved. Mercy is a blessing both to the one who offers it and the one who accepts it. Mercy is a washing away of an offense, as if it had never happened. Mercy is starting fresh. Mercy is cleansing. Mercy is purifying.