Scripture is filled with examples of God exercising His divine right to grant pardon and award grace to whomever He chooses. The parables in the Gospels are perhaps some of the best illustrations (I encourage you to read them even if you are familiar with the stories):
1. God as the merciful king (Mt 18:23-27)
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
2. God as the generous lender, canceling debts (Lk 7:41-43)
“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
3. God as the shepherd in search of his lost sheep (Lk 15:3-7)
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
4. God as the one searching for the lost coin (Lk 15:8-10)
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
5. God as the father rushing out to meet his son (Lk 15:11-24)
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
6. God as the judge of the truly righteous (Lk 18:9-14)
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Can you see yourself in these stories?
I am the slave who needs a merciful king.
I am the debtor who needs a generous lender.
I am the lost sheep who needs a loving shepherd to come and find me.
I am the lost coin, barely worth anything, but worth enough that God spends all night searching for me.
I am the insolent son who needed a father so loving that he forgives me before I can even finish saying, “I’m sorry.”
I am the worst of sinners (i.e. tax collector), despised by everyone, and yet exalted by the only one capable of judging me.
Now, can you see yourself as the king, the lender, the shepherd, the father, and the judge?
Rarely, can I see myself in those roles. I am not as quick to dispense with mercy, forgiveness, and compassion as I am to beg for it.
Jesus, in telling the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” told his disciples when they answered it was the Samaritan, not the priest or Levite, who acted as the beaten man’s neighbor, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:25-38).
We will always be the slave, the debtor, and the the lost sheep; however, we must not let opportunities when we can be the merciful king, the generous lender, and the loving shepherd pass us by, lest we become like “The Unforgiving Servant,” willing only to accept mercy, but never willing to offer it (Mt 18:21-35).