The Rules for Mercy

Those who follow women’s professional golf (and there’s bound to be one of you out there somewhere) are no doubt already acquainted with events regarding Lexi Thompson earlier this month.  She was two strokes up on the 12th hole of the final round at the ANA Inspiration tournament, which is a “major” for the ladies.  A rules official approached her and said she had incorrectly replaced her ball on the 17th hole the day before.  She placed her marker.  She picked up the ball.  She placed it about an inch away from its previous location.  That’s a two stroke penalty.  And it meant she signed an incorrect scorecard.  That’s another two strokes.  Suddenly she was two strokes behind, not two ahead.

Amazingly, and with tears visible in her eyes, she birdied the next hole.  She went on to lip out on the 18th for the championship.  She lost in a playoff.  She missed out on a major championship and about $150,000 in prize money because a fan watching on television sent an e-mail to the LPGA and tattled on her.

There is no question Ms. Thompson broke the rules of the game.  By the letter of the law, justice was done.  The question is, is it a reasonable law, and is it being reasonably enforced?

Whether the rule is reasonable is a debate I will yield to people who actually care about such things.  (Yes, I have been known to use a “foot wedge” from time to time in my golf game.)  But regarding enforcement, I see no way mercy could be meted out on a case-by-case basis in such a way as to satisfy everyone, or anyone.  It would be nice for the rule-breaker for the decision to be made by the individual — but then, every individual would rule in his or her own favor, and then why have the rule?  The only way to have mercy is for everyone, and I mean everyone, to agree to abide by someone’s judgment.  And good luck with that.

I say all that to bring up the principle of mercy regarding God’s judgment.  It is very easy for us to speak on behalf of God when our own infractions are under consideration.  “Mercy!” we implore, and then we imagine we have received it.  But we don’t determine the conditions under which mercy is given.  That is for God alone.  It has to be.  No other way makes sense.

We can be thankful that we serve a merciful God. Stories abound of “the lovingkindnesses of the LORD” toward His people, how “in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:7-9).  God’s people often were spared the brunt of God’s wrath, despite their shortcomings; “in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God” (Nehemiah 9:31).  We know we fall short, as all men do (Romans 3:23), and we reach out desperately for His mercy, knowing we are doomed without it.  Therefore, when we read that His mercy is found through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-8), we seek out faith.  And when we read that faith must have works to be of effect (James 2:26), we seek to identify those works.  And when we read that baptism is one of those works (1 Peter 3:21), we are baptized.

None of this makes God any less merciful.  It just makes us more obedient.  More respectful.  More thankful.  And grateful that we serve a God who is wholly above reproach, who judges impartially (Acts 10:34), who is willing to save us from the worst of the messes we make for ourselves — that is, when we comply with whatever conditions He sets for His mercy.