You know, I don’t really think I ‘got’ this idea of mercy before my World Youth Day pilgrimage. I mean, I knew the technical, dictionary definition of mercy, but I have spent a long time struggling with how this applied to my relationship with Jesus. The Church traditionally frames mercy in a way that did not click with me; that is, mercy was framed in terms of our faults and failings. It’s all “oh God I’m not worthy of your love” or “oh God, I’m a bad, naughty and wicked and a failure but you love me” or “oh God, you’re so great and I’m this scummy bit of mould on the bottom of your shoe but you like my particular shade of green so you’re tolerating me.”
I was unable to articulate my problem with that framing until recently when I realised something quite astounding; that’s actually the language of abuse, and God is not my abuser.
Allow me to clarify; one technique used by abusers in relationships is to create dependency through a power imbalance. This is often achieved by downplaying the inherent value of one’s partner by belittling them, pointing out their flaws, and then talking about the abuser’s own greatness. “You need me. You must have me. You are nothing without me.” Now obviously there is a bit of a power imbalance between myself and the omnipotent creator of the universe, and there’s nothing wrong with relying on God for strength and assistance (as we would with any good partner). But as the Bible tells us, we are made in God’s image (or, to quote a more accurate translation, we are made “from the same stuff” as God). God’s greatness is reflected in us, we have an inherent dignity, and we are all worthy of respect.
Divine mercy is not about Jesus waiting for us in the bushes, ready to pounce and call us out in moments of weakness. Divine mercy isn’t about Jesus tutting in the corner of the room saying “you’ve been a naughty boy?”
Divine mercy is about a positive relationship; it’s about God saying that whatever you’ve done in the past, we don’t have to focus on that. We can put that behind us, we can reconcile and we can work together to repair the damage. A psychologist might say what this means is that we become solution oriented people rather than problem oriented people. It’s about moving on, not dwelling in the past. In fact, a relationship with God is the opposite of an abusive relationship, where our mistakes would be lauded over us. God meets us where we are and asks us how he can help make everything better.