In our day-to-day secular world, the word mercy tends to be associated with situations you probably wouldn’t want to find yourself in. When a person has been painfully, incurably ill for a long time, you might hear someone say that dying would be a mercy. Or in certain types of television dramas, you might hear that a victim begged for mercy before some horrible action was taken against him or her.

We have come to associate mercy with situations or individuals who, for one reason or another, have power of harm or unpleasantness over someone else and choose not to exercise it. We even hear people say that they feel “completely at the mercy of” their boss, the traffic, the IRS, their mother-in-law, or some other nemesis.

Mercy is also found often in the Bible, regardless of which version you read, and it usually gives me pause because I have the above associations with the word. Thus, I was very pleased to be reading a passage in Matthew recently and there, helpfully – as the Amplified often is – was a definition of the word. The scene is Jesus trying to set the Pharisees straight by telling them: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice and sacrificial victims.”

Twice in Matthew and again in Hosea – and undoubtedly a host of other places – mercy is defined. Here are three definitions: readiness to help those in trouble; dutiful steadfast love and goodness; readiness to help, spare, and forgive.

In all these definitions, I find goodness with no tainting that has been added in the secular applications. This mercy is not only what God offers to us, but also what God seems to want us to offer to others.