Divine Mercy 101: Divine Mercy in the Psalms

A weekly series by Robert Stackpole, STD, the Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy

WEEK 5: Divine Mercy in the Psalms

In the Psalms we see a further expansion of the Israelites' understanding of Divine Mercy. Fr. Woroniecki explains (p.17):

In Genesis and Exodus God demanded, above all, faithfulness and trust of the entire Hebrew society, and through the society He was forming faithfulness and trust. Likewise, for lack of faith and trust, God smote the whole people with severe punishments, yet He was ready to return them to His mercy whenever He noticed signs of sincere repentance of the whole people. In the Psalter, He applies the very same principle to each [individual] soul. The penitential psalms of King David are the most marvellous testimonial of all times to that truth.

In Psalm 51, for example, the psalmist asks primarily for spiritual blessings. It is a plea for moral and spiritual renewal: (verse 2) "wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin;" (verse 10) "create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." In other words, this is not a prayer along the lines of : "forgive me, Lord, so that I can once again enjoy all the temporal blessings of the covenant, such as peace and prosperity and progeny." Rather, it is a plea for the restoration of moral and spiritual health: (verse 12) "restore me to the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit."

In general, the Psalms are more comprehensive than the Torah in their appreciation of the breadth and depth of Divine Mercy. In the Psalms, Divine Mercy applies to individuals and their struggles, as well as to Israel as a whole, and the Psalms address the need for individual, interior, spiritual renewal, and not just for the temporal blessings of the covenant.

The theme of Divine Mercy echoes throughout the Psalter. First of all, there are Psalms devoted to the praise of Divine Mercy. Psalm 136, for example, recounts all the merciful deeds of the Lord both in creation and in rescuing Israel from slavery, bringing the Chosen People to the Promised Land. This Psalm bears the refrain: "for His steadfast love ("hesed"=mercy) endures for ever." Psalm 105 and 106 are a summary of the proofs of the mercy of the Lord in leading Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Psalm 106 begins: " Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord for He is good; for his steadfast love [hesed] endures forever." Psalm 107 gives thanks to the Lord for all of the many ways he delivers people from trouble and danger.

Secondly, several of the psalms define the very nature of God chiefly in terms of His merciful love. Psalm 145, for example, repeats and elaborates upon God's self-designation as the merciful one from Exodus (verse 8): "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His compassion is over all His works." Psalm 103 is perhaps the most comprehensive exposition of the many faceted mercy of God: He forgives, He heals, He is dependable, He provides for His people, He is compassionate toward human weakness, patient and forbearing.

Bless the Lord O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits,
Who forgives all your iniquity, and heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
Who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame; he remembers we are dust
(Ps 103:1-14)

The Psalms also tell us how we can see the mercy of the Lord. Psalms 112:4 states: "Light rises in darkness for the upright; the Lord is gracious, merciful and just." In other words, we can only see God's mercy clearly when we are upright ourselves: a merciless and unjust heart cannot see nor experience nor understand the mercy of the Lord. Psalm 111 reminds us that it is through remembering His "wonderful works" that we can best appreciate the Divine Mercy, for His mercy is no mere philosophical abstraction: it is proven in His deeds.

Many of the Psalms focus on the boundless extent of God's mercy. Psalm 57, for example, tells us of the greatness of Divine Mercy (verse 11): "For Thy steadfast love [hesed] is great to the heavens, Thy faithfulness to the clouds." Psalm 33:5 states: "the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord." Psalm 23 tells us that the tender care of the Lord is like that of a shepherd for his flock, and that He leads us to His eternal home (verse 6): "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Many of the Psalms also encourage us to place our trust in the Lord, and to hope in Him. Psalm 32:10 promises: "Many are the pangs of the wicked, but steadfast love [hesed] surrounds him who trusts in the Lord." Psalm 33:18 makes a similar promise: "Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love [hesed]." Perhaps no Psalm says it better than Psalm 130, which is a cry for forgiveness and rescue from a soul cast deep into the darkness by trouble and sin:

Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord ! Lord hear my voice !
Let Thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications !
If Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope;
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love [hesed],
And with Him is plenteous redemption.
And He will redeem Israel from all His iniquities.

It is no wonder, therefore, that one of the favorite verses of Pope St. John Paul II comes from the Psalms (89:1) : "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever, with my mouth I will proclaim Thy faithfulness to all generations." And generations of English speaking Christians of all denominations have adopted Psalm 100 as one of their favorites:

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, go into His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
For the Lord is good; His steadfast love [hesed] endures forever,
And His faithfulness to all generations.

This series continues next week on the theme, "Divine Mercy in the Prophets and Didactic books of the Old Testament."

Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of The John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.

Previous week


You might also like...

We have seen so far that the New Testament does not substantially alter the Old Testament definition of Divine Mercy, but it does show us just how deep and all-encompassing God's merciful love for us really is.

Much of the message of Divine Mercy in St. Luke's gospel has its parallels in the other gospel accounts.

If the Son of God Himself is overflowing with merciful love, it is no wonder that the New Testament encourages everyone to place all their trust in Him, and in His heavenly Father.