Streams of Mercy

By Mark Rutland

Vine Books/Servant Publications,1999 | ISBN 0-89283-998-8

Reviewed by Merle Harton, Jr.

Here is a simple syllogism: God is merciful. We are called to be like God. Therefore, we are called to be merciful. Logic notwithstanding, we may well understand the first two parts of the argument, but we seem never to follow through with the conclusion. If nothing else, we appear to be a merciless race of beings. Even as Christians, we rarely behave mercifully toward our brothers and sisters of faith. Mercy is one of those things that no longer figures largely in our vocabulary, it is not often a subject of theological discourse—and it is not often practiced.

Mark Rutland lays blame for this less on our forgetfulness than on our blindness. It is not just that we have forgotten what mercy is, but rather we are blind to the continuing mercies of God in our lives. Drawing on Scripture, personal anecdotes, modern parables, and finely crafted pieces of short, original fiction, Rutland takes us up and down a long, winding stream of God's mercies. This is not a theological study of mercy, but rather a gift of presentation, a genuine show-and-tell.

The Pharisees, expecting justice and not mercy, hated Jesus because he performed miracles for those who were in need—not because they were deserving. But this is an abiding theme of Rutland's reflections; we need mercy, all of us, but we do not deserve it. Rarely is there anyone in Scripture who deserves it: Adam, Lot, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Manasseh, Peter—all human to a fault, but still recipients of undeserved grace from a patient, loving God.

Rutland spends the first part of his book on cataloging some of God's mercies, including the miracle of day-to-day mercies, the ones that keep us going every day. He spends the final two parts presenting the many ways we too can be merciful: Mercy for our children, for the family, mercy for ourselves, mercy within our faith communities, mercy in our culture, giving mercy because we have it. And he spends many fine literary moments on our need to stop trying to perfect our children, spouses, and friends—to learn how to let things go, to lighten up, learning to laugh, learning to forgive, moving beyond hang-ups and rage to a true, demonstrable expression of Christian love.

This is a book every Christian must read. The real point of what Rutland wants to achieve here is to make sense of Jesus, who showed mercy to people who deserved to be hated. Rutland wants to take us from the many mercies of God to how mercy can be realized in our daily lives, from merciful God to merciful man, reflecting in our lives the immense love in God's wide stream of mercies.

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Copyright © 1999 by Merle Harton, Jr.  All rights reserved