Merciless Semantic pet-peeves

Another fun little burns’ trivia nugget for you. One of ryan’s pet peeves (you know, besides the all-encompassing, “things that don’t work the way they should”…but i digress..) is when people incorrectly interchange the words “Mercy” & “Grace”. It’s possible that this isn’t quite the pet-peeve for him that it used to be, however, it’s something that rubbed off on me & for me it does still remain.

The example that sticks out in my mind most vividly is once when i was helping out in a church office. I managed to ruin a stack of wallet-sized invitation cards (not an inexpensive mistake). I was pretty upset/worried about it. A person came in & was consoling me saying, “don’t worry, there’s grace here, you have grace with us.” I didn’t say anything, after all, this person was simply trying to encourage me. Not to mention that the confusion between the two is confounded by the non-theological use of the term in our language, which in all honesty should cause me to drop this soap box entirely, as that’s probably what people mean…. But i do remember thinking, “can you really offer me that? Pretty sure you mean mercy…”

Really I almost never say anything as i’m not always able to wrap my head around what the differences are (& unlike when i was in elementary school I don’t like walking around correcting people’s grammar/word usage). There are moments of clarity & it’s fairly easy for me to articulate ‘mercy’, but grace tends to elude me (ironic seeing as how we named our daughter for it….i get the ‘main idea’, but getting nit-picky i get confused).

Anyhow, this morning in my Hebrews study I pondered on the following verse:

Hebrews 4:16
let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

now this from the study notes in my bible:

mercy addresses our need for forgiveness when we have succumbed to temptation, and grace brings timely support to sustain us in the midst of temptation.

just got me thinking on an illustration that ryan gave me once a long time ago (but then immediately said it didn’t work, but i didn’t understand why or how so i kept using it): you’re speeding, get pulled over by a police officer. he doesn’t give you a ticket = mercy. he then gives you $100 = grace. i think i finally get why that’s not right. the first part is correct: he doesn’t give you a ticket = mercy. grace would be more like….(this is tricky, not sure if i’ll get it): he so changes your heart/mind so as to enable you to no longer speed…to no longer succumb to the temptation to speed. which of course doesn’t work in the analogy b/c only God can do that, but i think that makes the point (?).

Feel free to correct me if need be….i’m not sure i’ll ever REALLY understand this….

3 thoughts on “Merciless Semantic pet-peeves

  1. I tend to work off these definitions:

    Mercy – kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them.

    Grace – of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.

    In short, I never see the Bible point to men or women as the source of grace, ie – “Ryan gave grace to Jenn.” Grace finds its source in God and is a work that only he can do (so far as I’ve seen). In contrast, people in scripture are called to be merciful and have mercy.

    Now, we can be a “means of grace,” through our witness, preaching, or other things, but the essence of Grace is that it is a merciful WORK of God.

    Not sure if that clears it up for anyone…

  2. I have a pet-peeve along these lines that technically is wrong, but I think should be right, heh. I think that compassion and mercy should be more clearly delineated. In my mind, Ryan’s definition of mercy is more aptly applied to compassion, whereas I see mercy as kindness or goodwill towards those who have offended, wronged, or harmed you when you are in a position to punish or judge them.

    This pet peeve of mine originated in discussion of spiritual gifts. I do not feel that I am particularly gifted in compassion but I do feel that I am gifted in mercy. I do not have a supernatural heart for the afflicted and miserable–it exhausts me. But I do seem to have an unusual capacity to forgive or overlook offenses and empathize with wrongdoers.

    The more two words overlap, the less useful they become it seems to me. Because mercy is equated with compassion, it takes a paragraph to explain to someone what I may mean if I say that I think I have the gift of mercy. I think that mercy is a type of compassion, but I think that it is a unique type.

    Thoughts? =)