Mercy Misunderstood

Parole board rejects clemency for killer
Columbus, Ohio — A condemned Cleveland killer moved one step closer to execution Tuesday despite a rare plea for mercy from the prosecutor overseeing his case and support from nearly half of a board that previously voted unanimously against him. The Ohio Parole Board voted 6-4 to turn down a request for clemency for death row inmate Billy Slagle, sentenced to die for stabbing a neighbor 17 times almost three decades ago.  (The Arizona Republic, Wed. July 17, 2013, pg. A2, emphasis mine)

Mercy is a short word, widely misunderstood and sometimes wildly misused. Exodus 34:6-7 says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Mercy is one of the fundamental expressions of God’s character. As such, it is critical that we know what mercy is and what it is not.

The clip from The Arizona Republic is just one of many recent media examples of how we in the 21st century mistake clemency for mercy. Clemency is a power of certain public officials, like the governor, president or a judge, to lessen the punishment of a prisoner. On July 9th of this year a Florida man named Marshall Gore was 25 hours from death by lethal injection when a judge stopped his execution. Though a jury had found Gore guilty of murder, the judge felt his sentence did not take into account certain facts, so Gore remains alive. That’s clemency and it’s a pretty big deal, but it is NOT the same as the mercy we have received from God.

Imagine yourself a criminal. You are tried and found guilty of breaking the ultimate law, God’s law. Your sentence is death and now you live on death row waiting for your execution. Mercy is not just God lessening your penalty from death to life in prison. Mercy is God sending his only son to die the criminal’s death in your place. Mercy is God smashing the chains that bind your hands and feet, shattering your cell door from it’s hinges and crumbling the prison to ash. Mercy is God setting you free forever and then welcoming you to live eternally in his kingdom.

God is merciful, gracious and abounding in love, so never mistake mercy for clemency. Mercy is so much more!

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

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