Lord, as Thou wilt, deal Thou with me;
No other wish I cherish.
In life and death I cling to Thee;
Oh, do not let me perish!
Let not Thy grace from me depart
And grant an ever patient heart
To bear what Thou dost send me.
Grant honor, truth, and purity,
And love Thy Word to ponder;
From all false doctrine keep me free.
Bestow, both here and yonder,
What serves my everlasting bliss;
Preserve me from unrighteousness
Thro’out my earthy journey.
When, at Thy summons, I must leave
This vale of sin and sadness,
Give me Thy grace, Lord, not to grieve,
But to depart with gladness.
To Thee my spirit I commend;
O Lord, grant me a blessed end
Thro’ Jesus Christ, my Savior.
–Kaspar Bienemann (1540-1591), Tr. Emanuel Cronenwett (1841-1931)
Visiting with a parishioner last week, we were reading the Sermon on the Mount, and he read, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt. 5:7, NRSV).
“What do you think of when it says ‘mercy’?” He asks me.
“Well, what do you think?” I replied.
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you!” he said.
I was at a loss. I was unsure of how to briefly describe mercy. Mercy is one of those words that is oft used yet seldom defined. I understand mercy, but I was having difficulty finding a way to describe it in simple terms.
“Well,” I began, “when someone is in a position of power over someone, and the person of lesser power commits an offense against…”
It was at this point that his eyes glazed over and was obviously not following me.
Why was it so hard for me to explain mercy? It is one of the terms used to describe God,
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm, 103:8, NRSV)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end; (Lam. 3:22, NRSV)
‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,’ (Ex. 34:6b, NRSV).
“Mercy” is one of those words that seems to have become so ubiquitous in the lexicon of faith, that we do not see the need to define it, and is simply used with the assumption that everyone understands what it means.
This hymn is a wonderful exposition of mercy, not as a word to be defined, but as a reality to be lived and experienced from the perspective of faith. Already from the beginning, “Lord, as Thou wilt, deal Thou with me,” the hymn-writer, as well as the hymn-singers, place themselves at the mercy of God, trusting that God is indeed merciful.
It is a scary hymn to sing, because it cuts to the core of how we understand the divine. I often find myself saying, “I sure hope God has a sense of humor.” Such a statement is often intended to be humorous, but there is certainly a serious element to that as well, the sub-text of which is, “I hope that God is merciful.” It is a hope of which I am, at times, unsure.
I am sometimes asked, particularly from friends who do not have the same beliefs as I when it comes to faith, “What if God doesn’t exist?” This is a question that does not concern me to a great degree. In fact, my greatest fear is not that God doesn’t exist, my greatest fear is that God is not vastly merciful.
This, I think, is part of our journey of faith: learning to deeply believe and trust in the mercy of God so that we are able to arrive a point at which we can truly say, “Do with me what you will, O God” and have an assurance that we will be treated in compassionate and loving ways.