Divine Mercy in Scripture

Old Testament

Based on Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Rich in Mercy (Dives in Misericordia)

Old Testament understanding of Divine Mercy — summary The Old Testament proclaims the mercy of the Lord by the use of many terms with related meanings; they are differentiated by their particular content, but it could be said that they all converge from different directions on one single fundamental content, to express its surpassing richness and at the same time to bring it close to man under different aspects.

The Old Testament encourages people suffering from misfortune, especially those weighed down by sin — as also the whole of Israel, which had entered into the covenant with God — to appeal for mercy, and enables them to count upon it: it reminds them of His mercy in times of failure and loss of trust.

Subsequently, the Old Testament gives thanks and glory for mercy every time that mercy is made manifest in the life of the people or in the lives of individuals. In this way, mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God's justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound.

Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love.

Even the Old Testament teaches that, although justice is an authentic virtue in man, and in God signifies transcendent perfection, nevertheless love is "greater" than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love.

The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice — this is a mark of the whole of revelation — are revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and His mercy.[53]

Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it, if we admit in the history of man - as the Old Testament precisely does — the presence of God, who already as Creator has linked Himself to His creature with a particular love.

Love, by its very nature, excludes hatred and ill-will towards the one to whom He once gave the gift of Himself: Nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, "you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence."(54) These words indicate the profound basis of the relationship between justice and mercy in God, in His relations with man and the world.

They tell us that we must seek the life-giving roots and intimate reasons for this relationship by going back to "the beginning," in the very mystery of creation. They foreshadow in the context of the Old Covenant the full revelation of God, who is "love."[55]

Connected with the mystery of creation is the mystery of the election, which in a special way shaped the history of the people whose spiritual father is Abraham by virtue of his faith. Nevertheless, through this people which journeys forward through the history both of the Old Covenant and of the New, that mystery of election refers to every man and woman, to the whole great human family.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."[56] "For the mountains may depart...my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed."[57] This truth, once proclaimed to Israel, involves a perspective of the whole history of man, a perspective both temporal and eschatological.[58]

Christ reveals the Father within the framework of the same perspective and on ground already prepared, as many pages of the Old Testament writings demonstrate.

At the end of this revelation, on the night before He dies, He says to the apostle Philip these memorable words: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me...? He who has seen me has seen the Father."[59]

[53] Ps. 40(39):11; 98(97):2f.; Is. 45:21; 51:5, 8; 56:1.
[54] Wis. 11:24.
[55] 1 Jn. 4:16.
[56] Jer. 31:3.
[57] Is. 54:10.
[58] Jon. 4:2, 11; Ps. 145(144):9; Sir. 18:8-14; Wis. 11:23-12:1.
[59] Jn. 14:9.