It is all too easy to stick to the attitude that might is right. In contrast, mercy usually seems like weakness, a foolish abandonment of the tough and resolute course of action I typically want to pursue. I think we all experience it. Someone hurts me, so naturally that person should be made to suffer in return. A neighbor insults me, so I insult her right back. Or perhaps I even go so far as to spread that delicious little piece of info about her that I know will ruin her reputation.
The prevailing notion that usually seems to rule the day is this: I can't really be up unless someone else is down. I routinely live my life in a way that seems to assume that the true measure of happiness, peace, and order in life is determined by the sheer force of will (mine over someone else's). Through sin I gradually become the center of my own little universe and, if I keep heading down that road, I might actually begin to believe my own fantasy.
But here's the funny and almost scandalous truth about all of this when viewed through God's eyes - it's completely upside down! God comes to the earth to save everyone from sin and death. But how does he do it? Does God carry out this ultimate mission in a tough, forceful, and mighty way? No. He is born. He is delivered like any other regular, weak, completely dependent human child. He wails, he cries, and he allows himself to experience genuine needs like hunger and thirst and pain. He needs the warmth of swaddling clothes and his mother's milk to survive. He lives by the love of others. The God of the universe chooses to place his own human life into the hands of a poor Galilean carpenter and his young wife.
Why in the world does God do this? To show that true power is found precisely in mercy and love, not fury and coercion. It is mercy and love that reign supreme. Love is not love at all when it's coerced, when it's forced upon another. Genuine peace, what Augustine called "tranquility of order," cannot exist where there is no love. In an atmosphere of hatred, revenge, and one-upmanship, love cannot breathe and it soon dies out. Most of what we think evinces true power is usually, in fact, a flash in the pan, a quick fix, a tree with no roots. When it's all said and done, earthly power always exhausts itself and the one who insists upon grasping it is never satisfied. Love and mercy alone satisfy the human heart.