Repainting the House Divided

Reposted from my LEGO blog “Square Feet”:

What happens when a red astronaut from the LEGO Classic Space faction and a black-clad astronaut from the enemy Blacktron alliance fall in love?

This build went through several iterations as I toyed with the scene. It actually started out as a plain Blacktron base corridor scene, though I neglected to photograph it at that point.
The two astronauts already looked as though they might have been falling for one another, so I went with that and rebuilt one end of the corridor in Classic Space LEGO colours and made the astronaut a red one.

The heart followed, making the point clearer, and then, under the influence of a 13-years-married-and-still-gloriously-in-love relationship I decided to make it a bit more domestic.

I’d already thought about calling it “Across A House Divided” or something similar, and I started thinking, “what if that’s their actual house?”.

Ergo the paint rollers. And the icing on the cake is that she‘s getting ready to paint her half in his colours just as he‘s getting ready to paint his half in her colours. That’s what love is like.

Obviously there’s a message here, in our increasingly divided times. With seemingly everything becoming increasingly politically coloured in lurid reds and blues, maybe LEGO’s old smiley-faced, cooperative, friendly astronauts can teach us a thing or two.

I characterised the Blacktron faction as “enemy”, and that certainly seemed in the late ’80s to be the case, from their predatory, slightly sinister ship names (“Invader”, “Renegade”) to the fact that once the Space Police were introduced it was Blacktron astronauts in the jail cells. But even though they were enemies, the catalogues of the day still showed the two factions cooperating and working together in the vital project of colonising the galaxy.

Maybe our current “enemy” divisions into the Red Camp and the Blue Camp aren’t as terrible and world-ending as some people would like us to think. Most of my in-laws hold vastly different political views to my wife and I, but we’ve just managed to make it through a Thanksgiving without a single political argument. For which I am duly thankful, believe me.

But the point is that love transcends all of that. For all that I disagree with the political narrative most of my inlaws have chosen to accept, they are good people. And I’m not going to accept the contemporary myth that says you have to define yourself and everyone else purely in terms of political affiliations.

So slightly unintentionally I seem to have built that in LEGO bricks. Here’s a situation in which the political colours of their surroundings are unimportant beside the love they have for one another. Black or blue-and-grey, it doesn’t matter as long as we’re together.

This isn’t a blog I usually get political in, but the “message” is an important one right now. Thanksgiving has just come and gone, and Christmas is on its way. Maybe it’s time to step back from the brink of metaphysical total war with the opposing ideology and remember that those who hold it are human beings just like us.



“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they lose heart” -Colossians 3:21

It being Father’s Day, this verse was the text preached on at my church on Sunday. The NIV that I often use puts it differently: “exasperate” and “so that they do not become discouraged”, but I think I prefer the older language in some ways. Losing heart seems so much deeper and more profound than mere discouragement.

I started to think about the implications of this verse. The instruction is clear enough: don’t go out of your way to rile your kids. Be a Good Dad.

But the reasoning is interesting: “so that they do not lose heart”.

Discouragement and losing heart is so easy in this world. All around us there are attacks on our worth, our self-image, our value. Temptations to believe that only if we look or behave in a certain way are we valued and productive. We call a lot of these “advertising”, but they aren’t what I want to focus on right now.

No, what struck me on Sunday was the idea that a large part of a father’s role might be summarised as creating heart in your children.

If “losing heart” is more than just discouragement, building heart is more than just being an encourager as we normally think of it.

I sometimes believe that the spiritual gift of encouragement is the gift most misunderstood by all the various spiritual gift inventory questionnaires I’ve seen; to a one they all seem to envision a middle-aged woman whose gift finds expression in the sending of cards.

This isn’t very cool if you’re a young woman, and even less helpful if you’re a man. By and large, most men don’t express the gift in that prissy sort of a way, if they have the gift. In some cases it can lead to a lot of misapprehensions about encouragement and what it really is.

Creating heart might be a more useful way of expressing what I’m talking about; it has at least the advantage of not having any baggage of which I’m aware.

So what do I mean by “heart”?

Heart as I’m meaning it encompasses a number of different qualities, foremost among them courage, conviction, integrity, hope, fervour, compassion and faith. It’s a valorous blend of characteristics embodied in every true hero, a blend that enables them to slay the monsters, face down the odds, oppose the tyrant, stare death in the face and spit in his eye. It’s also the blend of qualities that reaches out with compassion and aims to make the world a better place, looking beyond oneself to others.

This is what I want for my daughters and son.

Courage has been described as “the first of qualities, because it guarantees all the others”. I’m not sure this isn’t going a little too far, but certainly courage is important, and a vital part of what I mean by “heart”. In the Colossians verse, losing heart is expressed in the NIV as “becoming discouraged”, and courage is at the heart of that word. Many spiritual virtues take courage: it takes courage to show faith, courage to love, courage to show compassion in a world where it’s thin on the ground. The quality is never listed in any Biblical list of spiritual fruit or character qualities, but perhaps that’s by design, because so much of the time we reduce courage to the physical exigencies of the battlefield and the toughness of mind and body that calls for, when much of what I’m talking about here is moral courage.

Conviction and faith are part of what I mean by heart, because unless you have your heart involved then your “faith” isn’t true Biblical faith at all, merely a sort of cold mental assent. Unlike believing in the Loch Ness Monster, simply acknowledging the existence of the Godhead isn’t enough if your life doesn’t change as a result. As a father, I pray that I’m raising my children to be men and women of conviction, knowing what’s right and pursuing it with vigour.

Integrity goes along with this, because heart encompasses the unification of the inner and outer person. It’s the opposite of wearing masks and hiding: knowing who you are as well as Whose you are, living out of your deep inner self with the courage not to hide and the conviction that there is a purpose for which you were created that will take all your God-given powers.

All of this takes Biblical hope. Not the wishy-washy vague feeling we’ve demeaned it into, but the strong certainty that God has plans and a future for me, to prosper me and not to harm me. That if His purpose takes my life, then it’s not the end, but in His economy some things are worth dying for.

Fervouris involved, because you can’t have all of these qualities and not live with passion. And compassion, because unless it’s directed outwards into the service of the Lord and the blessing of other people, what good is it all? No-one wants to be around a fervent, courage-filled person of conviction who hates other people.

A lofty task and a worthy goal, but how do we do this? I hope I’m building heart in my children, but I’m not always very intentional about it.

I guess it begins here, with this verse. Don’t provoke your children. Don’t exasperate them. Don’t aggravate them. Be reasonable, able to be reasoned with. When you have to lay down the law, do so with grace. Set the example you wish you’d had; everyone comes from an imperfect family and a father’s care that had holes in it, but you need not reproduce all of that.

At its most basic, building heart in your kids means not tearing it out of them. We fathers are often considered the disciplinarians, but correction needs to be delivered in a way that makes our kids want to get it right and which builds into them the ability to do so. That means not tearing into them for trifling offences, but it also means bringing correction when it’s due. Our kids aren’t perfect either, and we who might have had harsh parents need to be careful we aren’t becoming so permissive that our children have no boundaries at all.

Something it’s taken me a while to learn is that my kids respond to different things. One of them, physical discipline just makes her stubborn. If you want to get through to her, she needs to understand why. Another of them, the prospect of reward works wonders (ok, so I bribe my kids sometimes. It seems to work). As their father, I have to tailor my engagement with each of my children, knowing that what encourages one may exasperate another, and yet trying to be even-handed in my approach to them. Nothing poisons family relationships like favouritism (look at the book of Genesis); that would be provoking them.

I’m not trying to claim I’m there or that I do it perfectly, because I’m painfully aware of just how far I fall short. I hope I’m building heart in my kids more than I’m making them lose it, but I expect they’ll have their individual hangups from well-meaning mistakes I made. Hopefully none beyond the grace of God, though.

In Your Anger Do Not Sin

There’s a teaching in some circles that Christians should never get angry. The Bible instructs us to rid ourselves of anger and fits of rage, and if we do get angry, some would tell us that it’s because we felt like we were entitled to something and didn’t get it. The solution is to “surrender our rights” to God, thus removing the cause for anger, and remain calm and cheerful with a good Christian smile on our face no matter what. If we’re angry, it obviously means we’re doing it wrong.

I first came across this idea as a teen. There was a news report back then about a Jehovah’s Witness family that were refusing to allow their child to get a life-saving medical treatment because it involved getting a blood transfusion, and JWs have a weird perspective on Acts 15:29 that makes them opposed to blood transfusions.

The thought that a mother and father could be so callous as to refuse life-saving treatment for their own child angered me, and I mentioned this to an older Christian in my church.

Their reaction surprised me. Rather than agree that this was indeed an injustice, they rebuked me for getting upset about it and told me “Don’t be angry”.

I was particularly not good at talking to people as a child, even into my teens, and to this day I don’t react quickly when surprised. I couldn’t put the words together to say what I was actually thinking, and didn’t even fully grasp what their objection to how I was reacting really was, but even then I felt like this whole train of thought was heading in the wrong direction.

Since then I’ve encountered the same idea in other spheres of life. Christians shouldn’t get angry.

Quite what these people make of the cleansing of the Temple I don’t know. Apparently even then, Jesus can’t really have been angry, because we know anger is sinful, right?

Ok, what if they’re right, and Jesus wasn’t really angry even then? Picture the scene: the Son of Man kicking over tables and chasing out the money changers with a whip, and all with a serene, beatific smile on His face. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I find that image actively scary. The natural reaction is that either He’s buzzed on something potent and illegal, or there’s something seriously psychotic in His makeup. Either way, He’s hardly the merciful Saviour we know and love.

Anger is a natural human reaction. Because we are told in the Bible on occasion that God Himself gets angry, we do not have a leg to stand on if we insist that anger is always sinful or that Christians should not get angry. For example, in Numbers 11 we read that “the Lord became exceedingly angry” at the ungrateful, complaining attitude of His people when they grumbled about the manna He provided for them and wanted meat instead.

We read also of other occasions on which God gets angry; it’s a mistake to try to paint this as His normal emotional state, but He does, on occasion, get angry. Even in His self-declaration to Moses, He proclaims that He is slow to anger, not incapable of it.

The human capacity for anger, then, is not a result of the Fall but an intrinsic part of the Divine image in us. Had the Fall not happened, there might not have been reason for anger, but there would still have been the capacity for it.

This is because anger is a response to a situation which says “I feel that a wrong has been done”.

The problem we have with anger is not the intrinsic capacity for it, but the appropriateness of when and how we express it.

Because of both His character and His omniscience, God’s anger is always appropriate. He always has all of the facts, He loves everyone, and He is completely righteous and incorruptible even by His own desires. When He gets angry, it is in fact because a wrong has been done, not merely because He feels that to be the case.

Moreover, He is completely righteous in His expression of anger, neither punishing more severely than the situation calls for, and straying into injustice on that side, nor being more lenient than is warranted and straying into injustice on the other side.

Human anger is a bit more fallen in nature. As fallen descendents of Adam and Eve, we no longer instinctively align ourselves with God’s view of things. We get angry about the wrong things, fail to get angry about the right things and express our anger in fallen, destructive ways. That we get angry is not the problem. If you can be grievously wronged – like being raped or beaten – without getting angry about it, it’s a sign that you’re not dealing with the situation. Anger in this sort of situation is healthy and good, because it shows that your moral compass is working. A wrong has indeed been done, and anger is the correct response to that. It is, to coin a phrase, What Jesus Would Do. As Christians, we are called not to remain in anger but to rise above it and forgive, but if a wrong has been done to you or someone you love, getting angry about it can be a good thing.

This, after all, is why God gets angry about sin: it hurts people He loves. He is so incensed about it that He was prepared to die in order to make an end of it once and for all. He can feel wrath – destructive anger – in perfect love. He’s the only One who can, because He alone has all the facts and is not a slave to His anger but Master of it.

This is why the Bible instructs us to get rid of wrath. In our fallenness, wrath is a state we cannot safely enter, because we don’t automatically track with God’s view of the situation and we don’t express our anger with perfect justice and perfect love.

Mostly, though, what the Bible tells us to be rid of is destructive, fallen anger of the kind that enables sin. Fits of rage – flying off the handle over minor infractions, especially the consuming anger that just wants to destroy. Bitterness, which is anger turned inward rather than given vent in any healthy way. Anger directed at the wrong object.

But anger itself is not the problem. We’re in a fallen world, which means that injustices happen. As Christians, we ought to be angry about that, angry not at God because we apparently can do a better job than He and would never have allowed this to happen, but angry at the injustice itself. We should be galvanised by God’s anger at injustice, enough to do something to put a stop to it. Not one of the great reformers of the past – Shaftesbury, Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, or any of the others – ever did anything to fix the abuses of this broken world without getting angry about them, I guarantee it.

Mercy (Chivalric Virtues series)

This post is part of a series on the chivalric virtues. For the series introduction, go here.

The qualities of courtesy and mercy go together. The idea of courtesy can also be expressed as graciousness, being full of grace, and grace and mercy together are the two primary character attributes of God.

I am, however, for the purposes of this series unifying the virtues of justice and mercy, which is a little less immediately obvious.

I’ve blogged before on the subject of justice and mercy, and much of what I’ve already said is also applicable here. However, this series comes at the subject from a slightly different angle, so it may be worth reiterating.

As a knightly virtue, what is mercy? And what is justice? The chivalric vows of the Song of Roland include vows “to fight for the welfare of all”, “to give succour to widows and orphans”, “to protect the weak and defenceless” and “to eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit”. All of these vows could realistically be viewed through a lens of either mercy or justice; in practical terms, the chivalric outworking of mercy and justice is identical.

In short, showing mercy means fighting for justice. In the situation of an offence, compassion for both victim and perpetrator means we want to see justice done. Justice, not revenge: vengeance is not ours to grasp, but rests with the Lord as the ultimate Sovereign and the only One with all of the facts. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a step forward in terms of justice, setting forth the idea of punitive balance and limiting the sentence to the equivalence of the crime. Even today, we look at some sentences and decry them as unreasonably harsh.

But at the same time, showing mercy for a victim means fighting for justice for them. Protecting the weak and defenceless; those who cannot protect themselves.

In chivalric terms, justice and mercy run together as the constraint on our strength. Might is to be used in the service of Right, whether our “might” is literal physical strength or economic muscle or popularity and persuasiveness or positional authority.

This is what separates the knight from the bully. Bullies use their strength in no-one’s service but their own, to cow, terrorise and dominate. We can see the bullies in all walks of life – physical bullies, emotional bullies, economic bullies, political bullies, authoritarians and petty despots…

Fighting against these doesn’t always involve fists. In fact, in most cases that’s the least desirable option. But mercy requires that unrighteousness be opposed.

This is how God can be a God of love and a God of wrath. Evil really is evil, and mercy means doing what is in your power to end the suffering it causes.

In Divine terms, making a final end of evil will be so final that only righteousness will endure. And we none of us measure up to that absolute standard. In the wisdom of God, there’s a way through the apparently irreconcilable imperatives of love for humanity and anger against the hurt caused by evil. We can be brought to the side of righteousness.

Mercy and justice both are the outworking of love and compassion. Seeing a need (widows and orphans, the weak and defenceless) and taking steps to do something about it. Standing up for those who cannot do so. Doing good to those that need it.

Legend has a name for those warriors who embody all of the knightly qualities but this one: the Black Knight. Of dauntless courage, courteous, loyal to his liege and even possessed of a towering integrity, the Black Knight is nonetheless black-hearted and evil, a symbol of warrior virtue gone wrong, because they have no mercy in them and are contemptuous of weakness. Let us not go there, but rather, use the symbol of the Black Knight as a lesson in the importance of this virtue. Because anyone can be brave, but it takes a truly strong person to show mercy.

In the planetary terms of my Mediæval cosmological symbol scheme, Mercy is of course associated with Venus. In the planetary symbology of the Middle Ages, Venus and Mars stood for the feminine and masculine archetypes. A legacy of this is the use of the planetary symbols of those planets to represent male and female in biological texts. Indeed, that association has become the norm, and many have probably forgotten their origins as planetary symbols.

Interestingly, though, we as Christians often seem to want to feminise mercy. Spiritual gift inventories are particularly prone to this in my experience, which can often leave men who score highly in mercy feeling somewhat uncertain or disappointed.

Mercy need not be entirely feminine, however, any more than courage need be entirely masculine. The Scripture is full of both courageous women and merciful men.

We shouldn’t be in the situation where we have to rescue the manly qualities of mercy or detail what a masculine mercy looks like, but somehow we appear to be there anyway. For the record; nowhere does the Scripture indicate that any of the spiritual gifts are segregated by gender, least of all mercy. Perhaps we could do with letting go of our Christian cultural gender expectations a little and not trying to second-guess the Almighty Giver of Gifts in what He is doing.

If this post can broaden a few minds as to what mercy might look like, then my job here is done.

God of Justice, God of Mercy

As Christians and simply as people, we often want to set the qualities of justice and mercy in opposition to one another. Justice is defined as “getting what you deserve”. It’s associated with law, punishment and retribution. Our personification of her is shown as blindfolded and wielding a sword, the implication being that she doesn’t care who she wounds. Justice is often thought of as hard, unfeeling, even callous.

Mercy, on the other hand, is defined as “not getting what you deserve”. It’s often thought of as tender, caring, concerned for people, the epitome of love and kindness. Soft-hearted, associated with restoration and second chances. We often think of them as polar opposites, and a lot of the time we like mercy a lot better than we like justice.

What I want to do in this post is examine them as two sides of the same coin. I want to show that, far from opposing one another, the two ideas actually support and underpin one another. God is a God of justice and of mercy. In this post I want to look at some of why He must be both.

Mercy, “not getting what you deserve”, presumes the idea of justice. Absent from a context of justice in which you generally get what you deserve, not getting what you deserve just becomes random chance. There’s no guarantee of acquittal for the innocent or punishment for the guilty; it’s just a roll of the dice. However the judge is feeling that day. Power to the strong. Whatever happens, happens; nothing can or should be done about it. Que sera, sera. No justice. In this context, there can be no mercy, because mercy represents a deliberate choosing to set aside the punishment required by law. It becomes meaningless to say that we receive mercy, because no-one gets what they deserve.

As I write this, I am realising how much fatalism denies the idea of justice, and more of why I hate fatalism. Fatalism says that whatever happens is the Will of God, Fate, Makhtub, Kismet. In this thinking, everything that happens is what ought to happen, because God has willed it. You can’t fight the Will of God; all you can do is knuckle under to the circumstances and “submit” to it. Yes, Islam, I’m looking at you.

The problem is that we live in a fallen world in which people can and do act evilly. Men oppress one another, steal from one another, commit murders and rapes and all sorts of other crimes. If everything that happens is Fate, then nothing ought to be done about this. It’s already written. It’s God’s Will. You can’t fight Fate.

What kind of monster is this God? Certainly not the God of the Bible, Who “does not leave the guilty unpunished”. God’s justice is as fundamental to His character as His mercy. The fact that we crave justice, want to see it done, get offended when it is not seen to be done, points to the existence of justice as a fundamental idea. My father-in-law often gets riled at British police dramas on TV, because they have a tendency toward producing situations where justice cannot be done, for whatever reason. A thorough-going devotee of the idea of justice, this offends him. It ought to. That’s the point. The screenwriters are deliberately playing on the latent desire to see justice done in order to produce a righteous anger at injustice.

But this idea of justice is not as incompatible with mercy as we are sometimes led to believe. Justice without mercy is pretty unpleasant: harsh, cruel and unconcerned with anything beyond a blind dishing-out of consequences. A blindfolded woman swinging a sword indiscriminately. It’s just as fatalistic in its own way. What goes around, comes around. If bad things happen to you it’s your fault. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Karma. Yes, Hinduism, I’m looking at you.

Mercy has also been defined as the outworking of compassion. Seeing someone in need and wanting to help. Without mercy, justice is reduced to a terrifying set of scales in which we are all weighed in the balance and found wanting. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. And another eye, and another eye, until we are all blind and toothless. Without mercy for the victim, how can justice truly be just? Without an acknowledgment that there might be mitigating circumstances, all we are left with is a blind cycle of vengeance and counter-vengeance.

Justice untempered by mercy actually becomes unjust, in other words. It cannot exist on its own; the cycle of vengeance is not true justice but a parody. The cycle of Karma is not true justice but a parody. Mercy underpins justice as much as justice underpins mercy. Compassion is the foundation of both; they are two sides of the same coin. God cannot be the God of either unless He is the God of both.

What I’m really glad about is that “Mercy triumphs over judgment”. Mercy includes the capacity to set aside retribution for the sake of compassion. Not a denial of justice, but a setting aside of punishment. Because justice as well as mercy is an outworking of compassion, God has to be both just and merciful. Compassion sees both sinner and sinned-against with love, and finds a way to do right by both. Not minimising the extent of the wrongdoing and thus being unjust and hard-hearted toward the victim, but not denying the intrinsic value of the sinner either, for that shows a lack of compassion and opens the door to the blind injustice of the cycles of vengeance. God’s compassion on sinful humanity finds a way to satisfy justice and pardon the sinner, not papering over evil or denying its true effects, but acknowledging the full depths of the problem and actually doing something about it. In this run-up to Easter, I’m reminded that the Cross is a demonstration of justice as well as mercy. Sin gets what it deserves, but there is mercy for the sinner. And one cannot exist without the other.

God must be both just and merciful. Otherwise, He is neither.

Who God Says He Is, part 4

And so we come to the fourth and final installment of the series on God’s self-daclaration of His nature and character to Moses in Exodus 34.

This section contains one of the more difficult parts of Scripture: all that stuff about the sins of the fathers. I make no claim of absolute authority on this, or anything else I say about what the Bible means. But some of my thoughts are included here.

First, though, the easy-to-understand part:

Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished

And only after His goodness, grace, mercy and forgiveness have been firmly fixed in our minds does He begin to talk about His justice. He doesn’t leave the guilty unpunished.

Grace and mercy cannot exist without justice. Unjust grace is not grace; cannot be grace. Unjust mercy is equally oxymoronic. Without the context of righteous justice, grace and mercy are random chance, not deliberate goodness.

God does not overlook sin; He deals with it. He doesn’t treat the wound of His people as though it is not serious, papering over our inward depravity with little legalisms and obediences. Evil has consequences, both for those who are sinners and those who are sinned against. God cannot be good and allow us to continue in sin; that’s not forgiveness, it’s being an enabler.

He loves us; He’s gracious and compassionate, slow to get angry and lavish in the desire to bless. And so He must deal with sin. Papering over the cracks isn’t going to cut it. If He doesn’t root out the sin itself, we just go on harming ourselves and others. Grace and compassion for the sinned-against as well as justice compels Him to not overlook sin.

So because He is the gracious and compassionate God, He pays the price for us. Not because we deserve it, but because He wants to. Because as well as having the desire to help – compassion – He’s the only one who also has the power. As the old hymn puts it: “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heav’n and let us in”. Others might have had the compassion, but God alone was the All-Powerful I AM who could actually do something about the problem.

If we in our fallenness treat “failure to stop and render aid” as a criminal offence, how much less can God stand by while we suffer in our sin, knowing that He alone has the power to help?

visiting the sins of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generation

Even in His preliminary dealing with sin via the first covenant, He sets limits on how far sin can go. Only to the third and fourth generation, not forever. Some people have read this as “punishing the children for the sins of their fathers to the third and fourth generation”.  God denies this specifically in Ezekiel 18, then later Jesus Himself kicks the supports out from under this idea; all those wrong-end-of-stick questions about “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” are decisively set aside by the Lord Jesus as totally wrongheaded. This difficult-to-understand verse, then, must mean something else. But what?

People live in families, and traits are passed down. Sons are like their fathers, and daughters like their mothers. If we’re not very careful to choose different courses, we reproduce in our own lives what was modeled for us by our parents. Therefore, part of the consequence of sin plays out in the lives of our offspring. Not because of some bio-spiritual law of inheritance, but because that’s how families are. If I have the sin of unrighteous anger, and I sow to that in my dealings with my children, I will reap from them unrighteous anger in return. To put it another way, part of the consequence of your sin is that you have to live in a family that does it back to you. This is almost the Divine equivalent of rubbing the dog’s nose in its business when you are training it to use a litter box.

But even in His punishment of sin, our Lord sets limits. He will not visit the sins of the fathers on their children down through all the generations. We are not spiritually fated to reproduce the sins of our unknown 12th-Century ancestors. We are not even spiritually fated to reproduce the sins of our immediate forebears. Sin has consequences, and God is not going to let us get away with it. But there is no fatalism that forces us to follow in the ways of our ancestors. Fatalism is for Muslims. We are followers of Christ.

Notice, too, that this doesn’t appear until way down the list. Normally the things first mentioned in a list are considered the most important; in this case, grace and compassion. This is in accordance with the rest of Scripture: “Mercy triumphs over judgement” and “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.  Yet there are consequences for sin, and God is not an enabler either.  Sin cannot be permitted to endure forever.  He will deal with it, because that, too, is who He is.

Who God Says He Is, part 1

In Exodus 34, God passes before Moses and proclaims His name. This is the first time since the pre-Fallen Adam that a human being has seen God without veil of disguise or vision, which makes it an incredibly significant event. What God says here in connection with this is key to our understanding of His nature and character.
In essence, this is the clearest single statement we have of who God says He is. If we get this wrong, we will have a distorted image of God, which will skew our understanding of the Scriptures, of who we are and of what He has called us to.
Who, then, is our God?

The eternal Name of God. The Great I AM, as He revealed Himself to Moses. Eternal, without “I Was”, nor yet “I Will Be”. Changeless in His character, the same yesterday, today and forever. Thus faithful and reliable. The same God who created the world good. The same God who went looking for Adam. The same God who saved Noah’s household because of his righteousness. The same God who would not sweep away the righteous with the guilty when destroying Sodom, who promised to spare the city for the sake of as few as ten righteous people.
Self-existent, without “I think, therefore…” The only One who exists simply because He exists, without reference to anything else. He alone is the fount of everything else that exists, because He alone is self-existent and not contingent on other things. He owes His existence to no thing; on the contrary, all things owe their existence to Him.
His self-existence implies All-Power, too. Limitless in His strength, the Creator of all things who was before all things. Not contingent on anything, He alone is the one who is in control. Nothing is beyond His reach, no act beyond His power, no sinner too far gone to save. Not mastered by anything, because He Himself depends on nothing.

The Compassionate and Gracious God
Full of grace and mercy. Giving fallen humans the good things they do not deserve and not giving them the bad things they do deserve.
Grace is, as Yancey says, the last best word. If we haven’t paid on time, sometimes there’s a “grace period” before punishment kicks in. In music, “grace notes” are special extra notes whose absence does not affect the tune but whose presence bring it alive. “Graceful” decribes beauty of motion and form. “Gracious” describes unwarranted kindness. “Gratitude” is the appropriate response when we are given something. We “say grace” before a meal to express thankfulness. Something “gratis” is not to be paid for.
Compassion and mercy are allied; two aspects of the same thing. Compassion has been defined as “seeing someone in need and wanting to help”. Mercy has been defined as not getting what you deserve. Giving someone a second chance. Withholding punishment out of love for the person. Mercy values people. Compassion sees a need – people are sinful and fallen – and wants to help. God has the desire as well as the power to do something about the human fallen condition.
These are, after His name, the first things God says about Himself. Along with His Divine power and eternal nature, this is the root from which it all stems.
He describes Himself as “the gracious and compassionate God” with good reason. The Ba’als and Ammons and Marduks of the ancient world weren’t gracious and compassionate. They were harsh and cruel. They were deities of vicious power, capricious and despotic, divine parodies of the horrific abuses of authority practised by the kings of the earth. Like their followers, they lorded it over their subjects and required grovelling obesiance. They could be bought off, but they never showed compassion, much less grace. Their help was always to be paid for.
How unlike our Lord! The gracious and compassionate God, who desires to help and will not be paid for it, because nothing we can offer Him will cover the cost. Who bears the price Himself, because He wants to.