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What Is Mercy?

fog-524071_1280The Hebrew word hesed is often translated as “mercy.” But “mercy” as commonly understood today does not do justice to the richness and depth of meaning of hesed.
A fuller translation of hesed would encompass concepts such as trustworthy, loving, powerful, steadfast, loyal. This is a fuller sense of God’s loving power and action, which extends beyond forgiveness alone.
The author of Psalm 136, which repeats “his mercy endures forever” 26 times, reflects on the glory of God and marvels at how he constructed the heavens and cast the stars into the sky. But more than anything else, the psalmist is awestruck by God’s mercy.
God’s enduring mercy is beyond our understanding. Maybe this is why the word appears so many times in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as in the New Testament.
The ancient Levite song leader would sing the first half of each verse of Psalm 136 and the congregation would sing the refrain. This reminded the congregation—just as we need to be reminded today—that all we are, all we have, and all we do depends on God’s mercy, trustworthiness, steadfastness, loving kindness, and loyalty.
Our prayer today:

Lord, help me always remember
that although you are the only one I have reason to fear,
you have chosen through your mercy
to be someone I never need to fear.

Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at

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