The word “gratuitous” means uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted. It can also be something given or done free of charge.
Gratuitous is often used of evil that seems to lack any greater purpose for accomplishing a greater good. Gratuitous evils are of a kind that people say, “What possible reasons could there be for this?” They’re evils that make no sense to us. The painfully perplexing question that lingers over such evils is “Why?”
When directed toward God, the question is how God could have any adequate justifying reason for permitting seemingly inexplicable evil. My aim here is not to resolve this perplexing matter. I’ve addressed this in an earlier post here.
My present interest is “gratuitous mercy.” John Calvin wrote that man can only be “regarded as righteous before God on the footing of gratuitous mercy; because God, without any respect to works, freely adopts him in Christ, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to him, as if it were his own” (The Necessity of Reforming the Church).
This is inexplicable mercy! How could we begin to account for such mercy? It is unexplainable!
How could God have any adequate justifying reason for offering mercy to sinners like me? I cry out “God be merciful to me the sinner” but I know that there is nothing in me that deserves mercy. When I receive divine mercy, the perplexing question that lingers over it is “Why?”
“Who am I that such great mercy would be shown to me?” I cannot get my mind around it. It doesn’t make sense. What possible greater purpose could be served by showing mercy to a wretch like me?
With the apostle Paul, I acknowledge that, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5, emphasis mine). “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).
While we were still…
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
“The only haven of safety is the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions, by His sacrifice appeased the divine anger, by His blood washed away our stains, by His cross borne our curse, and by His death made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy.” (John Calvin, A Reformation Debate)
Giving thanks for gratuitous mercy!
Check out this song: Where mercy begins