When the worst life has to offer touches our lives, all we may be able to see is red. Victims can be consumed with anger, rage and grief. Those justified feelings can influence our decisions and motivations regarding what we want for our enemies. While God expressed anger and rage in the scriptures, He also displayed remarkable mercy. What motivates God’s mercy? How can God want to forgive people of the most heinous crimes? For a long time I have been in awe of how God could even desire offering mercy to some people. Is it possible that one reason God desires mercy for the worst offenders is because He is a Father?
Consider King David as an example of a father’s struggle with justice, mercy and fatherhood. David was a brave, mighty warrior. He defeated Goliath the giant in order to save Israel (1 Samuel 17). He managed to kill 200 Philistines to have Michal, the daughter of King Saul, as his wife (1 Sam. 18:26-27). While Saul may have killed thousands, David was hailed for slaying tens of thousands (1 Sam. 18:7). David was not a coward, and had a tremendous respect for justice.
Unfortunately, King David was tested in a way that any father would consider a nightmare. This ordeal occurred when David’s oldest son, Amnon, had desires for his half-sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-2). In their day it was not inappropriate for half-siblings to be married (13:13). However, Amnon followed the disgusting advice of his cousin Jonadab and dishonored Tamar (the details of Amnon’s horrible actions are recorded in 13:5, 14-19). Amnon was likely worthy of death based on the law recorded in Deuteronomy 22:23-27. King David was angry, but we do not read that he gave the death penalty or any jail time to Amnon because of his crimes (13:21). Tamar lived at her brother Absalom’s house while her offender remained free.
Why didn’t King David have Amnon killed, or sentenced to prison, for this crime against Tamar his daughter? Would we not want some kind of punishment exacted for such a crime as committed by Amnon? I believe David handled this matter as he did because the perpetrator was his oldest son, typically the one heir to the throne! Their relationship influenced everything. I can’t imagine being the father of both the offender and the victim. When it comes to our own children, do we long for mercy more than we do justice? Hosea noted this about God, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings (6:6).” Justice is important, but God also longs for mercy.
Maybe this is why God desires to save the world despite its sins (1 Tim. 2:4). God did not neglect justice, and He provided a way for us to have mercy (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Thankfully, God took action as a Father while David did nothing. God is a father, just as David was to Amnon and Tamar. David cared about justice, but he loved his children, too. God cares about justice, but He also loves His creation. Where we see an enemy, God sees a child. Where we see the worst, God sees the lost. The heart of a father seeks mercy, and that may be why God can desire mercy even for the worst of our offenses. I praise God that He is our father!