February 5

A Severe Mercy

Acts 5:3-5 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God. Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.

Take a look at the young church as described in Acts 4. There is persecution, but there is also boldness and unity: “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (v. 32).

In the midst of this comes the sin of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), who lie to the church leaders. God judges them immediately and decisively.

In 1977, Sheldon Vanauken, a disciple of famed British author C.S. Lewis, published a book called A Severe Mercy, named after a quote from Lewis to the author. It described a move of God that seemed unnecessarily harsh at first, but which Lewis described as a mercy, albeit a “severe” one.

This is what the Lord was doing in his church with Ananias and Sapphira. While we might focus on the breathtaking quickness of judgment (but remember that if they were genuine believers, they immediately went into God’s presence), imagine the impact this must have had on the new church. A proper fear of God would have permeated everything. The reality of God would have come into sharp relief to everyone, perhaps especially to those who were wavering in their faith. The hypocrites would have left. Everyone would have swallowed deeply, and would have taken a solid assessment of their spiritual condition.

What a blessing that would have been for the church. What a cleansing, and a strengthening! What a mercy to help the church strengthen its roots in God before more persecution came.

Take another look at something the Lord has done or allowed to happen in your life that you considered harsh. God isn’t arbitrary, and while we will never understand all the reasons for His actions, it may well have been a lovingly merciful thing for Him to act that way at that time. He is a merciful God, and is so loving that He doesn’t mind temporarily risking His reputation to extend His mercy to us. Time and spiritual growth are often the secret to seeing that mercy and love.

Prayer: Lord, I’ve judged You as harsh sometimes. Forgive me. I agree with Your word that You are loving and merciful. Do what You need to do in me to help me to see that anew.