Like "grace," "mercy" is a word I use too lightly.
I do it unintentionally, because in my mind "mercy" seems synonymous with "compassion" or "blessings." In fact, Webster's Dictionary defines mercy as implied compassion that forbears punishing, even when justice demands it.
So when I say, "God was so merciful" as I tell others about my husband's healing from cancer, I'm right: God spared our family from this life-threatening disease.
And when I say, "God's so merciful" as I mention to a friend the good things going on in my life, I'm right again. I don't deserve the health I enjoy, the home we live in, the family I love, the gifts and talents I've been granted, even my ability to move, and speak, and see, and serve others in the many ways I take for granted. But my words falter when I speak of my brother-in-law, whose life was snuffed out too early by lung cancer—despite prayers and pleadings and fervent faith. Or when I think of several others—godly friends—locked in combat with cancer, waging war with everything they have against a terrible, insidious enemy. Has God withheld his mercy from them?
I'm afraid the casual way I use "mercy" can lead to some troubling implications. God is merciful—when he heals someone I love. God is merciful—when I enjoy an abundance of blessings. If I or someone I've prayed for appears to dodge a "cosmic bullet" or win some "divine lottery," God is merciful. But what if things don't go my way? And what about all the good people decimated by bad things?1