Mercy Light?

I’ve heard a couple of Bible teachers recently make the following statement, using almost the exact same phrase:

God doesn’t give additional light until the light that’s been given has been received.

Two of the people that I’ve heard repeating this statement regularly teach the Word of God to various audiences. As best as I can tell, these people don’t know each other, and don’t live in the same city. Since their wording is so similar, I’m guessing there’s a common source.

The thinking behind this line is that God gives only enough truth/light to illuminate your current position. He doesn’t give more than what you have received, because you’re not ready for it, and you’ll be under greater condemnation if you reject it. As Luke 12:48 tells us, to whom much is given, much is required. So God, because of His great mercy, will always withold light until the light that’s been given has been accepted. Only then will He give more light.

I’m curious about this line because not only is it not in the Bible, it’s not even Biblical!

Yes, it’s true that with greater light comes greater accountability and condemnation, and yes, God may mercifully withold more light sometimes – but it doesn’t necessarily follow that God will always withold that greater light, and in fact, on serveral occasions, we see Him doing precisely the opposite!

More Light, More Heat

Matthew 11:20-27 is a distrubing passage on several levels, and is perhaps the clearest example of Jesus giving more light even after the light that was given was rejected:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:20-27, ESV)

In the chapters leading up to this passage, Jesus had been preaching in the various towns of the region of Galilee. Many people in these towns accepted His miracles for their self-centered personal benefit, but as a whole, they rejected His message for their spiritual benefit. So Jesus denounced them, and informed them that they were deservedly headed for hell. But look at the kind hell they were headed to: not a “normal” hell that Sodom and Gomorrah would experience, but one worse because they had rejected “mighty works”! Thes cities had not just heard nice sermons that they rejected (the Beatitudes: Matthew 5-7), they had seen miracle after miracle after miracle – and rejected those too. If “Mercy Light” is a prevailing principle of God’s, why did He give more light when they didn’t accept His few teachings and miracles? Why wasn’t He interested in saving them from a worse fate than Sodom and Gomorrah’s? Wouldn’t He have wanted less condemnation for them than Sodom and Gomorrah would receive?

What Did He Know, And When Did He Know It?

In order to fully appreciate the situation, we should start by asking a simple question: When Jesus walked into a new town, did He know, in advance, who would believe His message? Because if He knew and He wanted to practice the “Mercy Light” principle, He would only speak to those who would believe, and would not share one iota with those who wouldn’t believe. This would save them from all sorts of condemnation, right?

The answer to that question is ‘yes’. Jesus is one with God and is all-knowing. John 6:46 even explicitly answers this question.

So.. if the “Mercy Light” principle was Jesus’ desire, why did Jesus preach a single word to those whom He knew would not believe? All it would do is serve to further condemn them.

Mercy Parables

We do see Him practicing the “Mercy Light” strategy in a sense. Starting in chapter 13, we see Jesus deliberately using parables so that those for whom the kingdom of God was not granted to would not hear about and understand the kingdom of God and repent. But rather, only His disciples would hear and understand. (Matthew 13:10-17; also Mark 4:10-12 with v33 & 34). Unfortunately, this is a bad example of Mercy Light because He waited till after these cities were guilty of a horrible condemnation. Why did He wait so long?

Furthermore, if His desire was for them to repent, why are these truths hidden as parables “lest” they should hear, understand, repent and be forgiven? (Matthew 13:15; Mark 4:12; John 12:37-40)

Gracious Hiding

For me, the most curious part of this Matt 11 passage is Jesus’ prayer after He denounces these cities:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Matthew 11:25-26, ESV)

Yes, there is a hiding going on, and yes, as Jesus states, it is the gracious will of God. But according to the repeated explanation of the parables, the focus of the hiding is not to avert a worse judgment, it’s to prevent people from seeing/hearing/understanding and repenting. Personally, I’m still trying to figure out how that’s “gracious.”

When I asked how this was gracious, one preacher explained it by saying that hiding these truths in parables would graciously avert a worse judgment for His audience. I can only assume he wasn’t thinking about what he was reading. When I pointed out that Jesus deliberately gave them so much light they were now  worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah, he offered no further explanation. Unless we’re willing to believe that Sodom and Gomorrah is only headed for Hell #1 and Capernaum and company are headed for Hell #2, while Hitler is headed for Hell #10.  That’d be gracious – but considering the fate that Jesus called down from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24), I can’t bring myself to that conclusion.

From where I sit, this Mercy Light business is a nice-sounding but horribly wrong explanation for what we see going on in the Scriptures.

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