It’s not just us Christians that are out and about around the Commonwealth Games stadiums. There’s a whole range of religions and other campaigns seeking to promote their message – understandably giving the large crowds attending.
Today as I headed down towards Perry Barr Stadium to welcome visitors to the Games I saw a large poster which an Islamic group have paid to have displayed close to the stadium. It reads “Never give up hope of God’s mercy.”
At one level, this looks like the kind of message we can say a hearty amen to. In fact, it seems that Muslim groups are learning to copy the strategies and tactics of Christian evangelists. We do believe that God is full of mercy and compassion. And yet, how a Muslim arrives at this statement is very different to how Christians do.
Islamic teaching in a nutshell is that the faithful should seek to live holy lives of obedient submission to Allah. However, as frail human beings, we cannot achieve the perfection that God might rightly demand. So, there is no guarantee that we will meet his standards. However, we can (and indeed al we can do is throw ourselves on Allah’s mercy at the end and hope that on the basis of our good efforts, he will let us off our sin and disbelief).
That’s not a very confident kind of hope is it. Rather than inviting us to not give up hope because we can rest in certain confidence, this has more of the kind of desperate hope about it. Close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
But furthermore, this kind of mercy doesn’t really point to justice either because it suggests arbitrary mercy. Imagine if you will, that during the Commonwealth Games, the judges decided on a whim to allocate medals to those who had finished 5th and 6th, simply out of mercy, because they felt sorry for the competitors. We would not consider that fair.
Now, this is important, because whilst I’m challenging another religious view here, we can end up thinking in those kinds of categories as Christians. We can live as though the expectation is that we must do our best and hope God will be okay with it. But that is not the Gospel.
The Gospel talks about mercy but that mercy is rooted in forgiveness and compassion. It’s rooted in what Christ has done for us and on our behalf, taking our place on the Cross and dying for our sin. This compassion offers justice as well as mercy because the Biblical image is not of God arbitrarily letting some off even though their merits fall short The image rather is of us sharing in Christ’s victory, participating in it and receiving the benefits. If you want a better sporting analogy, it’s closer to seeing how Chloe Kelly’s goal meant that the whole England team shared in the victory because she was acting for them when she scored. Christ is our representative who has acted in obedience to his father and sacrificial love on our behalf.
This also points to the nature of our hope. This isn’t about close your eyes and hope for the best. You see, we look forward with certain confidence to the day when Christ will return knowing that his compassion and mercy are guaranteed because the verdict of forgiveness has already been pronounced at the Cross. That’s why we can confidently say
“Never give up hope on God’s mercy.”