“Proclaim that mercy is the
greatest attribute of God.”
Devotion to Divine Mercy is not
every Catholic’s thing. Some people struggle with the image of Divine Mercy:
Jesus, His right hand raised to bless and heal, His left indicating his heart,
from which rays of red and white, symbolizing blood and water, pour forth as a
fountain of mercy for souls. Every version I’ve seen has been a bit mysterious
and unsettling—which seems appropriate, given that it’s a vision of the
Some don’t like the chaplet, which
is simpler and more repetitious than the rosary. Some consider the visions of a
poor Polish nun to be private revelations: fine for her, but not necessary for us
(even though she is a saint and was canonized by another saint).
And some struggle with the
emphasis on God’s mercy, seemingly at the expense of His justice or even over
His love. At first blush, saying that “mercy is God’s greatest attribute” (Diary of St. Faustina, 300) appears to downplay the seriousness
of sin and the need for repentance. It suggests—much to the comfort of some sinners—that
God will invariably forego His justice. It seems presumptuous.
But let’s think about what love, justice,
and mercy actually are. Love, we are told, is willing the good of another
regardless of the cost to yourself. Justice is giving another what is due.
Mercy is often regarded as a bridge between these two: sparing someone just punishment
for his or her benefit.
Because God is infinitely good,
justice requires complete goodness from us in return. That is God’s due. But we
are all sinners, and even the smallest sin stands in stark contrast to God’s
infinite goodness—a grave injustice toward One who loves us perfectly.
What is our due as a result of
this? Condemnation. We ought to suffer, not out of retribution, but as the
natural consequence of our sins.
So God’s mercy does not deny the
reality of sin or the need for repentance. Instead, it depends on these things.
Without the grave reality of sin and the suffering that justly results from it,
we would have no need of mercy. God’s mercy exists because of sin. There is no
But how can God be perfectly
loving, perfectly just, and perfectly merciful—all at the same time? And how
can mercy be God’s greatest attribute, when Scripture tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8)?
Look at it this way:
- If God is love, then His very nature is to will our good, whatever
the cost to Himself.
- What is our good? Ultimately, it’s the end for which we were made:
union with Him.
- What is the cost to Himself? He sacrifices His claim against us
for sinning against Him—He shows us mercy.
By doing this, it appears that
God abandons justice in favor of love. But how can He do this, if He is
perfectly just? Doesn’t sin demand punishment?
Yes, sin demands punishment. But
with so much sin against so perfect a God, who could possibly bear it? Who, except
So He becomes flesh in the
person of Jesus Christ, living, suffering, and dying for us—willing the good of
each of us at whatever cost to Himself. God’s perfect justice demands a perfect
price be paid, so He pays it Himself. His love is mercy.
In the person of Jesus Christ,
God loves us to death. All that remains for us is to return the favor.
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