God’s Mercy and Pity?

I must admit that yesterday’s Collect, or prayer, for the day in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer is one of my least favorite. Like many others, it is a Thomas Cranmer re-write of an ancient Gelasian prayer and has itself been re-worked several times. In its current form it reads:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The overall point, I assume, is that God’s power is mainly the power of forgiveness and love, that we need that love on our earthly pilgrimage, and that we one day hope to end up in God’s nearer presence. With all that I would agree. But surely there are better, and less destructive, ways to say it!

First of all, while there are plenty of passages in the Old and New Testaments which depict God as the ultimate judge before whom we should cringe, begging for mercy and pity, nowhere in the four Gospels does Jesus describe God as looking upon us with mercy or pity. When those words are used by Jesus, they are describing the kind of attitude we should have toward one another. God is Love but that reality is so much bigger and more mysterious than showing “mercy and pity.” We do not need to grovel before the One who created us in Love. We do not need either mercy or pity.

Secondly, we do not need to ask for grace which is the unmerited love and favor of God. It is all around us! Theologians used to speak of God’s “Habitual” Grace, the love which is the very nature, the “habit,” of God. What we need to do is to recognize that very nature and align ourselves with it so that we are going “with the flow” of the universe and not against it as we live into the reality of the reign and sovereignty of the Holy One.

Finally, “running to obtain (God’s) promises” is the very opposite of a Christian life. Paul’s great contribution to Christianity was recognizing that we do not try to live a good life in order to earn God’s love. Rather, we trust that God loves us and, in response to that love, try to live a good life. And, our final “reward” is not to obtain some kind of “heavenly treasure” (whatever that might mean), but to live under the king-ship of God in this life and the life to come.

If I were to re-write the prayer, it might look something like this: O God, your power is the power of love. Today we desire to open ourselves to that love which pervades all things and which alone can sustain us and enfold us into your eternal presence; through Jesus the Christ, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Not as beautiful as Cranmerian English but, I believe, better theology.



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