Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Have mercy?

As an Evangelical Christian exploring Orthodoxy (and the Jesus Prayer) I have struggled from time to time with that part of the Jesus Prayer which asks God for mercy. This is because it seems to cast doubt on the mercy offered to us through Christ and his death on the cross in respect of our sins. Why ask for mercy - and therefore forgiveness - when I have already received that through Christ by virtue of his death (and resurrection)? Isn't asking for mercy negating of denying that in some way?

Frederica Mathewes-Green answers this question beautifully in her book on the Jesus Prayer. She points to the story of the Good Samaritan and his compassion for the man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead. We are that helpless man calling for healing of the wounds and damage that the infection of sin has caused us. In her words:

"We are not trying to get off the hook for a crime, but recognising how the infection of sin has damaged us. Revealing all the extent of our illness to the heavenly physician, we seek his compassionate healing." (The Jesus Prayer page 80)

Here, perhaps, is where evangelicals and Orthodox differ. An evangelical believes that "once saved always saved" as if to say that covers everything! That is, once I have believed Christ for my salvation, received his grace through faith, then I am saved and it will only be matter of time before I die and enter heaven. Meanwhile although I am to battle against sin through daily disciplines of prayer, bible study etc. I am already saved and healed. But it seems to me - and I am ready to be corrected - that although the Orthodox would accept the first part - what Christ has done for us - they would add that salvation still needs to be "worked out", (or worked through) using St. Paul's phrase. Sin is still a present reality both inside and outside our lives. So there is still some saving to do and for that we need the help and mercy of God on a daily basis. Which is perhaps what St. Paul is in about at the end of Romans 7. "Who will deliver (heal) me? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ." Through Jesus and according to his mercy.

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