Mercy burns, wrote Flannery O’Connor, by which she meant … well, I’d like you to think on it for a minute or so, before I say.
For we have this idea about mercy, several actually, and we must be disabused of them as quickly as supernaturally possible. The idea many have is that it’s soft and sweet, and no doubt sugar and spice as well.
Once teaching Sunday School I went on and on and on and on about “being like Christ” until one gentle brother commented — to the class, to prevent outright shaming me, I think — that we do naturally include the idea of suffering in that “being like Christ” concept. He allowed as how it wd surely be part of any cost-counting on our part, that we wouldn’t just think of all the nice, pretty ways and how much fun it would be, and golly! let’s put on the show right here!
Well … certainly. That’s what I meant. Uh-huh. Naturally.
Actually it’s supernatural, but the point of course was that I was blathering and hadn’t even begun to consider what it might mean to actually pursue this. I hadn’t thought for a moment how coming right up next to the Lord would be like, what it would do, how it would feel.
Well. It burns.
And it bleeds.
For we have the fictional testimony of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce where in one encounter a hell-bound shade sputters contemptuously, “I’m not asking for anyone’s bleeding charity” … to which that heavenly sent to fetch him replies rapturously, “Then do! Do ask for The Bleeding Charity!”
So mercy bleeds too. The order is sometimes uncertain, and I think it can work either way, but I’m going to say it bleeds before it will burn — at least, before it will burn as much as it will burn when the fire of God really gets going.
Now, you have to know your sinfulness before salvation can mean an un-damned thing to you — so there’s a case for it burning first. But let’s go with the blood does come first. Or perhaps it is the blood that is scalding us?
C.S. Lewis again, this time in The Pilgrim’s Regress: a character tells the pilgrim protagonist he must go down a particular road — there is no other — and it leads right past a dragon. Everyone must go past the dragon. Or as a friend of mine puts it: No one gets by.
Every knee shall bow. Sooner or later, now or then. Every knee.
And one last thing about mercy — it’s very, very fast.
That may sound funny, since it so often seems so slow to us, and to others. But the truth is, if it’s slow, we might not even have asked for it. Many times I’ve wondered at my parched life only to realize I hadn’t even asked.
In The Violent Bear it Away, O’Connor’s main character becomes a prophet to warn people of the speed of God’s mercy. Once called upon, you see, the Lord comes quickly. Don’t call on Him ‘less you really want Him to come.
The truth is, many people don’t want God’s mercy. Either it burns and they fear it, or it bleeds … and they fear that, too. Both hurt and will hurt unto time is ended … which of course it doesn’t. It may be that both also salve.
Both hurt and will hurt because both, in the end do the same thing. Mercy destroys all in us that is not God. Depending on where you are with Him, you’ll experience it as burning, or bleeding — or both.
Both may also salve, because we receive — be it unto you according to your faith — what is best.
Burning mercy hurts the believer, as the dross is burned away. Bleeding mercy salves him: respite from a loving God.
Bleeding mercy hurts the pagan, who will not surrender his desires. Burning mercy salves him, as the flames are now the only barrier between him and the Lord he rejected.