Photo: Felix Carroll
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jul 1, 2008)
In honor of the year dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle, which began on Saturday, June 28, to mark the approximately 2,000th anniversary of the saint's birth, the following is an excerpt from Dr. Robert Stackpole's book, Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). In this excerpt, Dr. Stackpole discusses the mercy message of St. Paul:
If the Gospels show us God's mercy expressed in decisive acts for our salvation (such as the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of His Son), the Apostolic letters in the New Testament are the praise and proclamation of that mercy, and an exhortation to practice it.
Saint Paul gives us the most comprehensive doctrine of Divine Mercy. For him, Divine Mercy, considered as God's merciful love toward human beings, is essentially synonymous with God Himself. For example, he begins his second epistle to the Corinthians with the words: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort" (2 Cor 1:3). According to St. Paul, it was from out of the depths of God's merciful love that the Father brought us back from spiritual death to new life in Christ:
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive again with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph 2: 4-7).
Perhaps most memorable of all of St. Paul's words in this regard are his words regarding the merciful love of Jesus Christ manifested in His death on the Cross for us:
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation (Rom 5:6-11).
In fact, St. Paul's thoughts here find an echo in the book of Hebrews, which describes Jesus as "a merciful and faithful High Priest before God" (2:17), precisely because Jesus has made the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins on the Cross.
Saint Paul then bases the moral imperatives that he teaches on this Gospel of Mercy — as God through Christ has been merciful to us, so we also ought to be merciful to one another: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Eph 4:31-32). Similarly, St. Paul writes in Colossians: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion [the Greek phrase here is splagchna eleous, mercy from the very depths or guts], kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another, and, if one has a complaint against each other, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive" (Col 3:12).
Finally, for St. Paul, God's mercy is seen in the epistle to the Romans as the only possible explanation of why he allowed the whole human race — both Jew and Gentile alike — to fall into sin: "For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all" (Rom 11:32). In other words, God permitted evil, sin, and unfaithfulness in order to show a mercy that was even greater than sin and death. Thus, even sin and death results in God being glorified in the end, even more so than if He had not permitted human beings to fall!
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. He writes a weekly question-and-answer column for this website.