Page Summary

  • Mercy is what love looks like in the face of guilt and suffering.
  • Just because mercy is freely offered, it doesn’t make sin meaningless. On the contrary, the seriousness of sin is part of what makes mercy amazing.
  • The only thing needed to receive God’s mercy is to ask for it.
  • When we ask for God’s mercy, he typically answers through Baptism and, for those who are already baptized, Reconciliation.

Is there any coming back from serious sin or are we doomed to punishment?

There is a way to come back: by asking for and receiving God’s mercy.

Ok, but what does that actually mean?

Reilly was feeling a growing spiritual hunger in her late twenties. She had lived a secular life since leaving home, but she had a new friend who radiated the love of God, and she wanted what this friend had. She longed for some kind of spiritual connection, but there was one thing weighing on her conscience.

a woman crying and being held by another woman
a woman's face in shadow

Back in college, Reilly had hoped to start a relationship with a really tall guy named Ben. She had a crush on him for months, until, out of nowhere, he started dating Reilly’s friend, Kate. Reilly was hurt, jealous, and angry—so angry that she spread ugly rumors about Kate, knowing they would reach Ben. Reilly did it so skillfully that Ben dumped Kate. After that, Kate became withdrawn and depressed, and Reilly kept her distance from her. She later learned that Kate had attempted suicide.

Reilly didn’t like to think about it, but she knew she had done Kate a serious wrong. Reilly was sure that God was disgusted with her, so she was keeping her distance from God, which made her feel alone and empty.


[The young man thought] ‘I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 15:18-20

One of the most beautiful attributes that God has revealed about himself is his mercy. The Latin word for mercy is misericordia, which literally means a heart that is moved by misery. Mercy is a specific kind of love. It is what love looks like in the face of misery—whether the misery of guilt or the sufferings of the sinful, fallen world in which we live: sickness, injury, poverty, sadness, grief, addiction, and depression.

In God, there is infinite love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but no need for mercy, because there is no sin or misery. When God created a world of human beings (who then sinned and experienced the devastating consequences of sin), he revealed something new about love. He is a God of mercy, who has overflowing compassion for those who rebelled against him and suffered the consequences, who deserve absolutely nothing, who have nothing to offer him but their need.

Mercy doesn’t make sin meaningless. If sin wasn’t serious, God himself wouldn’t have laid down his life for us on the cross, suffering the consequences of every sin we would ever commit, even though he himself was guiltless. The greater the sin, the greater the mercy. The mercy that flows from the heart of Jesus is inexhaustible. As impossible as it seems, we will tire of sinning before God tires of loving us. His mercy has no limits, no boundaries, no point at which he says, “nope, sorry. That sin is just too much. I can’t forgive that.”


Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

Jesus of Nazareth, John 8:11

One thing is needed to receive God’s mercy: to ask for it. Why would anyone hesitate to ask for mercy? Because to ask is to acknowledge our need. It admits our spiritually desperate condition, the fact that we cannot make ourselves worthy of God’s love no matter how hard we try. To ask for mercy, or repent, is to say, “I’m sorry. I’m powerless to undo what I did, but I regret it. God, forgive me.” Opening your heart to God’s mercy cuts pride at its root.

When we ask for God’s mercy, he typically answers through two sacraments: Baptism and Reconciliation. Baptism is both a personal entry into Jesus’s death, when all sin is wiped away, and also a birth as a son or daughter of God in his resurrected life.

Reconciliation, or confession, is the way of asking for mercy for those already baptized who have seriously sinned and thereby wounded their relationships with God and others. Through the ministry of a priest, Jesus forgives our sins and restores our relationship with him. Like the father of the prodigal son, God is longing and waiting for his wayward children to turn back to him and make use of these free gifts he has given.

And what about Reilly? She decided to take the plunge and go to confession for the first time since grade school. When she walked out of the confessional, she couldn’t believe how free she felt. She didn’t even know how much weight she had been carrying until it was lifted. On the priest’s advice, she also took the difficult steps of contacting Kate, Ben, and her other college friends and genuinely asking their forgiveness for her destructive lies. She is now living a joyful and richly fulfilling life as a daughter of God.

two women sitting side by side

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