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Mercy and compassion are the key concepts in Christian religious studies. In modern English, these two words are synonyms, and they describe a feeling that a human being has when he or she sees another person suffering. Basically, it means sharing suffering. In religious studies, these terms could be considered in regards to both God’s attitude toward humans and relationship between human beings. It is important to estimate similarities and differences in this concept’s meaning in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Divine Mercy and Compassion in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, mercy is a fundamental characteristic of God. In Exod 34:6, He is named “merciful” and “abounding in steadfast love” (Balentine 16). Term “mercy” characterized God’s attitude toward Israel people and provides a basis for Israel’s restoration after the Exile (Neh 9:17). However, God is merciful not only to Sinai. He demonstrates his compassion to all His Creatures. In particular, Divine Mercy connotes the compassion toward sinners (Ps 145:8).
It was stated that people might repent, and they will be forgiven. Divine mercy and love is considered as a reason for people’s repentance. Therefore, according to the Old Testament, God’s creature did not have to deserve His love and mercy. They felt it in all situations. They could pray for Divine mercy and compassion (Balentine 16).
Divine Mercy and Compassion in the New Testament
The God’s attitude toward Israeli people description did not change. Similar to the Old Testament, in the New Testament, God is described as merciful toward them (for example, Jonah 4:2; Pss 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Rom 9:15) (Balentine 16). However, the general concept was changed. In the New Testament, mercy and compassion relate to Jesus. God’s son provided compassion for poor and dispossessed people and also to sinners (Matt 9:13; 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30–31; Mark 10:47–48; Luke 16:24; 17:13; 18:38–39) (Balentine 16). Therefore, it could be stated that God’s fundamental characteristic was represented in His Son Jesus.
Mercy and Compassion in Human Relationship
Mercy and compassion are also basic characteristics of relations between humans. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament underline that people should be merciful and provide love, help, and compassion toward each other (Exod 2:21–27; Ps 111:4; Matt 6:2–3; Luke 11:41; 12:33) because God does it toward all people (Balentine 16). In the New Testament, acts of mercy got the additional interpretation. Christ was identified with people’s poverty and needs. Therefore, almsgiving is not a simple act of mercy; it is a way to communicate with God through His Son (Cor 8:9). This idea obtained further developing in other Bible texts (Balentine 16).
It could be concluded that divine mercy and compassion understanding was changed in the New Testament. “Merciful” was a crucial description of God’s attitude toward Israel people as well as toward all his creatures. In the New Testament, Divine mercy toward Israel people is also mentioned. However, some changes between mercy and compassion description in the Old Testament and the New Testament appeared. In the Old Testament, “merciful” is a fundamental characteristic of God’s attitude toward all people, including sinners.
In the New Testament, God’s mercy and compassion appeared and developed in His Son. In a similar way, Jesus shared His love and mercy among people who require it the most. Regarding human relations, both the Old Testament and the New Testament postulate that human’s compassion toward each other is the reflection of God’s compassion toward people. Further, the almsgiving as an act of mercy was transformed into a way to become closer to God.
Balentine, Samuel Eugene, editor. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology. Oxford University Press, 2015. Saint Leo University Cannon Memorial Library E-book. Web.