Monthly Archives: September 2016

immoderatio omnis

Scattered thoughts on mercy.


We are very good at things we can measure, sounding the height and width and depth of things which have limits. But mercy is immeasurable. Who shall weigh the water from a gushing spring? Who will moderate the sun, or be offended that it does not dim its rays?

We are used to thinking in Aristotelian terms of a good thing as generally being the mean between two extremes. Don’t go overboard; what is healthy and normal, apt to our nature, is found in moderation rather than excess.

And yet mercy is always extreme. The very nature of God is an excess, an overflow. How strange it is that, from the Garden of Eden, we have always balked at this, always had difficulty believing God is our Father, always resisted asking for what He longs to give us. (What if Adam and Eve had simply repented?)

The earth was formless and void.

They have no wine.

Christ’s first miracle, like God’s first act in time, was a response to the simple fact of emptiness. And the gift has been pressed down and running over ever since. So His mercy sees the void in us and runs to fill it beyond all need and comprehension.


Salvation does not consist in beating the breast but in walking back to God. Judas and the prodigal both acknowledged their sin, but only one of them returned.

Only one of them acknowledged that it was to a Father that he addressed his words.

I have to remember this. I may acknowledge my sin, I may pray a Psalm like 51 and know uncomfortably how very true it is of me, and yet do so in a way that is morose. I am wretched, God. I am wretched. I am looking at how wretched I am. I can’t get away from how wretched I am. Behold my wretchedness. And I forget to add that I am a son, and He is my Father. I forget to look up, to find Him already running toward me down the road. I forget that the grace of seeking Him can only come because He has left everything—the shepherd in the wilderness, the housewife overturning all the furniture, the child in the manger—to find me. I forget that the angels in heaven rejoiced, with real and expansive joy, when David the adulterer and the murderer mourned my sin is ever before Thee.

David acknowledged he was sick; but David asked for healing, and believed that it would come.

Sorrow is only holy, I suppose, when it is part of a larger joy. The bent head, the face ashamed, the fist beating the wicked heart—must be part of a turn to Godward, a real expectation of and readiness to respond to the mercy we will find there, yearning to make us saints.

O, God, You long to pour out Your mercy upon us.

We must accept it; we must become its ministers, its conduits, channels through which it may burst from Your heart and overwhelm the world as the waters cover the sea.

So often You give mercy to one of us through another. Moses stood in the breach before You, and You showered Israel with grace. Mary asked for wine from You, and it exploded by the gallon into jars.

There is nothing tame or rational about mercy. Mercy is wild, superabundant, bursting all our categories. And it is natural. For God alone normality is defined by excess; mercy is unbounded; infinity is the measure of Love.

We may take offense at it; we may balk at the fact that we can neither justify nor understand it, that it is too big for us to control.

Or we may enter into it and let God change everything in us.

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