Posted by: erinelizabeth1983 | February 8, 2010

Theology of Mercy

This is a paper I wrote for my Human Care Seminar I class at the seminary. While I finish the new article I’m working on, I thought I’d post a few of the papers I had written in school.

“What is mercy? What does mercy have to do with the church? How is this ‘theology of mercy’ relevant to the church today? What does mercy have to do with me?” I have been asked all of these questions at one time or another when I’ve been explaining who a deaconess is and what she does.

Loehe describes mercy as follows:

Mercy is goodness, goodness is love, and, therefore, mercy is love. Mercy is goodness and love but in a specific relationship, namely in relation to the unfortunate and wretched. Love is manifold. When it is directed to God on high, it becomes devotion and adoration. When it is directed over the whole earth to other redeemed brothers, it becomes goodness, affability, and friendliness. But when it enters areas filled with misery and brings with it consolation, relief, and help, then it becomes mercy.[1]

Mercy is seeing the heartache, suffering, and need all around us and doing something about it. Mercy is a striving to bring relief and comfort to those who are suffering, to meet the needs of the body and to bring the light of the Gospel, which meets the needs of the soul.

In order to fully understand mercy we must also understand the source of mercy and love as well as the motivation for being merciful and loving. God is the source of all love and mercy. Rev. Matthew Harrison explains it this way,

Love for the neighbor, while an action mandated by the law of God, is a reflection of the very being of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (1 John 4:7). This love finds its source and motivation in the deep matrix and totality of the true faith (… the faith which is believed).[2]

In other words, God demonstrates His mercy and love to us through the Holy Trinity, namely in their relationship to one another and to people. God communicates this love through Jesus’ salvific work.

We hear about and receive the benefits of this work through the office of Leitourgia. Leitourgia is Word and Sacrament. This is what a pastor does: he preaches the word and we hear it. Then God works faith in our hearts through the hearing of this word and we receive the Sacraments and all of their benefits. In response to leitourgia, we practice diakonia, that is mercy. Diakonia flows from leitourgia. It is our faith in action; God’s love filling us up and spilling over onto those around us.

Leitourgia and diakonia cannot exist without one another. Both are essential elements of our faith and lives as Christians. Luther explains it thus:

The Holy Sacrament produces two things: one is that it makes us brothers and fellow heirs of the Lord Christ, such that it makes us one cake with Him; the other that we also become common and one with all other people upon earth and also all become one cake.[3]

Therefore, as scripture says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.[4]

But we also must remember, lest we fall into works righteousness, that it is not by our own works that we are saved. It is by God’s grace in Christ’s work alone.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.[5]

Again all sufferings and sins also become common property; and thus love engenders love in return and [mutual love] unites.[6]

When we fully understand the ramifications of participating in the Lord’s Supper; namely how it makes us all one cake, we lay our burdens on the altar, and pick up our neighbors’ burdens in order that we may help them to bear their burdens and they may help us to bear ours[7], then we truly understand what a crucial part of our lives mercy is. Luther says it this way:

You must fight, work, pray, and if you cannot do more – have heartfelt sympathy.[8]


[1] Loehe, as found in Loehe on Mercy, Written by Wilhelm Loehe, translated by Holger Sonntag, and distributed by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. p. 3

[2] Harrison, Rev. Matthew. Theology for Mercy. LCMS World Relief and Human Care. 2004. p. 3

[3] Luther, Martin. All Become One Cake.  Translated by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. 2005 LCMS World Relief and Human Care. p. 11

[4] James 2:14-18 English Standard Version (ESV) Copyright: 2001 Crossway Bibles. All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[5] Ephesians 2:8-10

[6] Luther, Martin. Fight, Work, Pray!.  Translated by Jeremiah J. Schindel and revised by E. Theodore Bachmann. As printed by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. Copyright: 2004. p. 8

[7] Galatians 6:2

[8] ibid.

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