Is God’s mercy for everyone?
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“In my heart I want to believe that God’s mercy extends even to nonbelievers that live a good life. I would like to know if Scripture gives more insight on this.” — Marcia C., an ELCA Facebook follower
Anne: God's mercy extends to all creation, and that includes nonbelievers. On Sunday, Feb. 25, we heard in the Gospel reading that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). God does not have mercy on some people because they are living good lives; God has mercy on all people because God is good.
Neddy: Either way, if you call nonbelievers atheists or people of other faiths, yes, you are right, God’s mercy extends to all. Scripture tells us that the Spirit of God is the one who gives life to everything that exists (Psalm 104:27-30). Life is a gift God gives us all. Just like the sun that shines, or the rain that falls on good and evil (Matthew 5:45), so is the mercy of God, even for nonbelievers who do not live a good life. The God of all creation is indeed, a merciful God.
Rosanne: There are many references in the Old Testament where the people of Israel are told to care for the alien or stranger in their midst (Deuteronomy 1:16; 24:14; Jeremiah 22:3-5; Ezekiel 47:21-22; Zachariah 7:8-10, just to mention a few). It would seem from these, and many other references, that God was concerned about all people and that God’s mercy and grace extended beyond the boundaries of the children of Israel.
Many of the parables that Jesus told surprise us by the grace and mercy that is extended to people whom we might least expect. Think of the parable about the laborers in the vineyard. The owner goes out at various times in the day to the marketplace to hire people to work. All are paid the same wage, no matter the amount of time that they worked. Those hired first, of course, grumbled. It was not fair since they had worked through the scorching heat of the day. The owner was not persuaded by their whining. It seems that God doesn’t have the same sense of what is right and fair as we might. God’s mercy was blind to bean-counting then and still is now.
Human creatures have a deep propensity for bean-counting. We try to create order by creating labels and categories into which we can put people we know or those we don’t and our own experiences so that we can pretend to be in control.
The Gospel of Matthew would have been a very different story if the writer had not started with the genealogy of Jesus, which includes Ruth, a Moabite woman — an outsider to the faith of Israel. It also includes the story of the three magi from the East. They were presumably astrologers who followed the strange star patterns in the sky to the place where Jesus lay. They were gate crashers at the birthday party of the Son of God. They had no business being there; they were not part of the “right faith,” but God decided to invite them anyway to be some of the first people to bring gifts and pay homage to Jesus. What we know is that God included them — people of many backgrounds and faiths — in God’s plan of love and mercy to all people.
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