Mercy as a value
The psalmist tells us that “God’s mercy is above all God’s works.” And so, the final Mercy value is mercy itself. Unfortunately, the term has sometimes suffered from disempowering interpretations: “mercy” can refer to “being nice,” enabling unhealthy behaviors, or keeping the peace. But mercy is something quite different. In the Hebrew scriptures, mercy comes from the word for “womb.” The roots of human mercy are in the divine womb. This is to say, love from the inside out, with all the potential for birth that comes with real pain, at real cost. In the Bible, mercy is one of the synonyms for God. God’s love is steadfast. God’s caring presence, no matter what, is assured. According to the “womb” imagery, mercy is a kindness of the mind that mirrors the spaciousness of the heart.
One of the clearest and most compelling recent definitions of “mercy” comes from Wendy Farley, a theologian at Emory University in Atlanta. She writes that compassion (mercy) is: a mode of relationship and a power that is wounded by the suffering of others and propelled to action on their behalf now. ( Wendy Farley, Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Theodicy.)
Mercy is a mode of relationship, not a momentary sporadic feeling. It is, rather, a habit of mind and heart, a way of organizing and interpreting the world. It is an enduring approach to the world. And, like any relationship, it is a two-way street. And a power. This is the exciting, challenging part. Mercy is only what it is when it is effective — when it survives against great odds and when it empowers all who come within its orbit of care. Because mercy opposes injustice and whatever is degrading, it is likely to involve danger. Conflict is inevitable, struggle enduring. Courage is needed, as never before, in our time.

Wounded (but not destroyed) by the suffering of others. If Mercy is com-passion, or “suffering with,” it is also comfort, or “standing strong with.” An inner-city minister in Baltimore put it beautifully: “Mercy is justice in tears.” Propelled to Action. Propelled is a very active verb. It says that mercy is God’s empowering presence in the world, a presence known only in and through those who act in God’s merciful name. What needs propel us and our organizations today? What wounds us?

Now. The God of mercy does not wait to care for us at the end of our lives or at the end of time. This God cares for us during all time. Made in this God’s image, we are exhorted by Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead, but fight like hell
for the living.” This means practical action. Now.