Broken But Blessed: Becoming Merciful

January 6, 2017 by

“Christians should be known as merciful people. That means they forgive everybody, no matter what has happened.” These words spoken by John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, recently caught my attention.

Mercy is the theme of Jesus’ fifth Beatitude, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. But what exactly is mercy? Simply put, it’s showing compassion to someone who is suffering, and doing this even when we have a choice to avoid it. It’s exhibiting forgiveness, patience, and kindness, when revenge would often seem more appropriate. Noble virtues to be sure, but seemingly suicidal in today’s world where violence and extremism break out like fulminant boils on an almost daily basis.

(There are of course multiple aspects to mercy, and I’ll be writing three posts about the topic. This first one explores the aspect of mercy in pardoning someone who has hurt us when it is in our power to retaliate, the next one shows how we have to be broken and shaped by God into people of mercy, and the final one covers mercy as corporal acts of mercy and compassion.)

The majority of us will never be faced with extreme situations that require us to show mercy and forgiveness in the face of dire calamity. For us, mercy – or the lack thereof – is played out in the banalities of daily life. Nonetheless, we can be stymied by the smallest hurts. But it’s good to remember that there’s always someone hurting much more than we are.

Elaine Roberts

Elaine Roberts, an evangelist I met in England, was forced to forgive under extreme circumstances, the likes of which most of us seldom encounter. Born in England to Jamaican parents, Elaine leaned toward atheism in her youth. However, a series of life-changing events led her to God.

Married in 1980, Elaine became pregnant with twins in 1983. Eighteen weeks into the pregnancy, she began to hemorrhage and lost the twins. Although it left her heartbroken, this experience planted the seed of faith in Elaine’s heart because through her children she caught a glimpse of the intrinsic reality of the God who creates all life.

The following year, Elaine’s mother was held at knifepoint by a burglar, narrowly escaping with her life. In the next year, Elaine’s twenty-eight year old cousin Florette was hacked to death by her own father, who was maniacally possessive of his daughter. At the time Florette was caring for her brother who had terminal liver cancer. Elaine and her husband took him into their home; he died two months later, devastated by his sister’s senseless murder.

Elaine began to question God. But she was held by a comforting presence she had never experienced before. “In spite of myself, I forgave the person who killed our beautiful Florette. Without wanting to I made that choice, and my emotions eventually caught up with my will.”

Elaine’s world was once again shattered just two years later. Around eleven o’clock on the night of August 20, 1987, she was seized with an unexplainable premonition that kept her up all night, pacing anxiously. A phone call early the next morning brought news that her beloved father was dead. Neighborhood youth, out for a lark, had lugged three huge logs onto the bike path that Elaine’s father regularly travelled. Returning home late at night, he was thrown off his bike onto his head. He fractured his skull and died.

Elaine was filled with a vengeance so fierce that her only desire was to trace her father’s killers and annihilate them with her own hands. It fell to Elaine to call her mother with the tragic news, and to accompany her to the morgue to make an identification. Elaine had never seen a dead body before. How could she bear the sight of her father lying lifeless, cold, and broken? She railed at God, “I have believed in you for five years; if you are real, prove it, and prove it to me now.”

“The next thing that happened was one of the most powerful encounters I have ever had with the living God,” Elaine recounts. “As I walked through the door into the room where my father lay, I felt what I can only describe as the most incredible warmth that washed over my body. An unimaginable peace invaded my soul, and the most perfect love filled my heart for those who had killed my dad. No longer was I angry. Amazed, I heard myself speak out, saying, ‘It is ok.’ From that moment on I have never been angry with the young men whose recklessness killed my father.”

As she sought healing following these tragic events, Elaine examined God’s response to us, his fallen children. “I began to understand the mercy of God. He deals with us according to his mercy, not as we truly deserve. When I exercise mercy, I treat others as God has treated me.”

John Piper carries this thought further in his musings: “Our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us. The key to becoming a merciful person is to become a broken person. You get the power to show mercy from the real feeling in your heart that you owe everything you are and have to sheer divine mercy.” Experiencing God’s unconditional love when she was herself broken, Elaine now ministers to others, showing compassion and mercy to those crushed by life’s relentless blows. Jesus came to forgive sin and pardon the evildoers. If we’re honest, we all need forgiveness for our wrongs and omissions. God’s mercy is available to all of us, if only we take the first step.

Have you had an experience of mercy? Please comment and let me know!

Read other posts in this series.


About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • Thank you Rebekah for a thought provoking blog. The story of Elaine reminded me of the church murder in South Carolina. Last year several of us visited the church and heard first hand from a survivor the power of forgiveness. She said "We must forgive, in order to be forgiven. Jesus forgave me," she said "for my sins so I too must forgive."

    Patricia Lucas
  • Hi Rebecca - Again a very thought provoking blog and what wonderful stories of God bringing grace in the midst of human tragedy - Andy

    Andy Pettman
  • You are doing wonderful work, sharing with others, especially those who feel lost and do not know the Goodness of God and His great desire to draw each one of us to know Him and be open to receiving all the graces and blessings He wants us to receive. You seem to be continuing the gift of Mercy. Pope Francis asked us to live the Gift of Mercy in 2016 and many people have wonderfully changed their lives. This year 2017, Pope Francis suggested that we try to live a life of Grace, taking us deeper in Love, Peace and Happiness. Let us help others to learn how to open our hearts to the Power, Happiness and Joy, and to the great gift of Grace, a Heavenly gift that transforms us all.

    Sister Veronica Mary
  • Dear Rebekah, I have just read your blog on mercy which I liked very much. Always good to read about the lives of actual people and how they have experienced God in a powerful way. This is very faith building.

    Caroline Taylor
  • Thank you, Rebekah for another beautiful demonstration of the grace of God at work in human lives. This is what inspires and encourages me so much that God can do through us what we cannot do in our own strength or intention. Praise God for his relentless hounding of our hearts! Who of us would waken and feel empowered in our own take on these kinds of tasks of mercy...but with God, He opens our eyes and gives us the words to say or moves our hearts to compassion...

  • Rebekah, I so enjoyed this blog. So encouraging. I'm not sure if you ever read John Piper's story, but it is an amazing one. He, himself, had to forgive the person, I believe drunk driver, that hit him and changed his life forever. This blog made me think of the verse that says, you shall know them by their fruit. It would take only Gods mercy and love for us to truly forgive. I've had to forgive, and it was only because of my Lord and Savior that I was able to. My gut wanted to to do otherwise, but my spirit cried out "no you don't". To Rosalie, don't be so hard on yourself. To want to protect your child from evil is a God given instinct. Don't the mama bears protect their young? You would do anything to protect the life you created. It natural. Like self defense. Defending yourself or your offspring is different than forgiving. We can defend, and then forgive. Rebekah, you're an amazingly talented person. Your blogs are great!! I will look forward to your next blog. Stay warm. Love in Christ, Emily To

    Emily Russo.
  • Thank you Rebekah for another valuable article of your series. I am following your series about the beatitudes already for some time and I appreciate your thoughts (like those of many other bloggers on your site) very much. Although I'm still quite young I can feel the truth of what you describe not least because I experienced similar things, even if not that hard outwardly. "Have you had an experience of mercy?" Yes, and it's true that we must get broken to experience gods mercy on its full extend making us ourselves merciful. And sometimes God has to set judgement on our lives, to get us and our heart to the point of "breaking". I am so glad to have got in contact with your community mid of last year and after a lot of Gods leading and advise I will move to your Darvell community soon, for seeking together with you all Gods advise for my next future. Maybe there will be a chance for you to get into more details regarding my experience, if you are interested (it will likely not be absolutely new to you). Please feel also free to contact me on my email if you want. I am looking forward getting to know more of you commited people.

  • Powerful story and beautifully written.

    Chris Armstrong
  • This is a powerful story of forgiveness. Thank you for sharing Elaine's story with us!

  • Rebekah - another thought about mercy: Anger fades over time. However, I cannot say another heinous act would not cause the same anger, resentment, and sometimes hate. For example, the young mentally disabled teen that was just tortured for hours by four young men and women in Chicago. I feel overwhelming disgust for them. If that had been my John, I would kill them personally for the brutal treatment of a completely innocent child and have no remorse for doing so. I would be lying to say otherwise. I do plenty of reading, bible study, charity, and good deeds, but I am no saint. It is how I know a truly good person like Mother Theresa is a far superior person to me. I have tried to reason why I cannot be so. I am not vengeful or malicious for any minor or petty actions done. I hate confrontation and let people get away with a lot often without even addressing the matter. However, in cases of rape and murder – or such inhuman treatment as was done to that young man, I am unwavering. Sorry, I cannot say I am any better than before.

    Rosalie Gambino
  • Dear Rebekah, I have often been told that faith is a Gift from God. I believe mercy can be too. When a person can rise above an act of senseless evil and draw upon God's love enabling them to show mercy to the perpetrator it seems like a perfect example of divine intervention. Of course, the person must be willing, so I don't believe they lack the proper credit for their awe inspiring ability to show mercy in adverse situations. Thank you for sharing.

    Rosalie V Gambino