Mercy is a fundamental aspect of God’s nature. The Bible tells us that God is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4) and that His mercy endures forever (Psalm 136). As Christians, we rely daily on God’s mercy and grace. But an important question arises: does God extend mercy freely to all people? Or is His mercy limited only to some?
This question has been debated for centuries. Some argue that God shows mercy to everyone universally. They point to verses which speak of God’s love for the entire world (John 3:16) and His desire that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9). However, others contend that Scripture teaches that God sovereignly chooses some to receive His saving mercy, while passing over others. They cite passages about God hardening hearts (Romans 9:18) and vessels prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).
So which view is correct? Does God show mercy to all people? Or only to some? This post will examine both perspectives through a comprehensive study of relevant Bible passages. Special attention will be given to God’s sovereignty, human responsibility, and how both truths relate. By the end, a balanced, biblical conclusion will be reached which upholds God’s mercy and justice.
- God’s mercy is a fundamental part of His loving character, and He delights to show mercy.
- In one sense, God shows a general mercy to all people by allowing them to enjoy common grace and live despite their sin.
- However, God’s saving mercy is particular, not universal. God sovereignly chooses to save some sinners according to His redemptive plan.
- God’s sovereign choice of some for salvation magnifies the riches of His mercy toward the elect. It does not make God unjust.
- Unbelievers are responsible for rejecting God’s mercy because of their own sinful rebellion. Their punishment is just.
- God’s mercy and justice work together perfectly. We finite humans should worship God rather than question His ways.
God Shows a General Mercy to All
The first perspective emphasizes that in some sense, God shows mercy to every person in the world. Supporters of this view point to Bible verses which indicate that God loves the whole world and shows a general grace even to those who reject Him. For example:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NKJV)
Furthermore, the Lord “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God wants everyone to repent and avoids hastily judging sinners, displaying great patience. He is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35), sending rain and sun upon the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). He shows a general mercy even to those who never repent.
Therefore, supporters of this view claim God universally shows a type of mercy, grace, and love to all people. He sincerely desires all to come to repentance and be saved, even if not all do.
God’s Saving Mercy Is Particular, Not Universal
The second perspective argues that while God may show a general mercy to all, His saving mercy is particular and limited to His chosen people. Several biblical passages indicate that God sovereignly chooses whom He will save, rather than saving everyone without exception:
For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:15-16)
God reserves the right to have mercy and compassion on whomever He chooses. His saving mercy does not depend on human desire or effort, but on His sovereign will alone.
Furthermore, the Bible refers to believers as “vessels of mercy” (Romans 9:23) who were appointed to receive mercy:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
God did not save all people indiscriminately but chose and called specific sinners “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Only because of His particular, intentional mercy are they saved.
Therefore, this view sees God’s saving mercy as limited in scope. He purposefully withholds mercy from some as part of His sovereign plan. While He shows general kindness to all in some ways, only the elect receive His redemptive mercy.
God’s Sovereign Choice Magnifies His Mercy
A possible objection arises – if God chooses to have mercy on some but not all, how is that fair? Paul anticipates this objection in Romans 9. But rather than apologize for God’s particular mercy, Paul argues it magnifies God’s mercy toward the elect:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:22-23)
The fact that God could justly destroy all sinners, but instead shows great mercy to some, magnifies His mercy. The vessels prepared for glory accentuate the riches of His mercy. As Romans 11:32-36 explains, God shows all people disobedience but has mercy on some for His glory.
Therefore, God’s particular mercy is not unjust but rather magnifies His mercy and glory. He is not obligated to show mercy to any. The mystery of election humbles us and exalts God’s freedom and compassion.
Unbelievers Are Responsible for Rejecting Mercy
A final objection claims that if God withholds saving mercy from some, then it would be unjust to condemn them for rejecting something they never really had a chance to receive. But Scripture teaches that all people receive sufficient revelation from God to be held accountable:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
Although God does not extend saving mercy to everyone, He reveals His existence and righteousness to all through creation and conscience. Therefore, unbelievers are without excuse for their unbelief and rebellion against God. The fault lies with humans who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18), not God.
Ultimately, while some vessels are prepared for destruction, it is because of their own sin. They receive justice, not injustice, when condemned. But vessels of mercy receive merciful grace and obtain eternal life rather than deserved wrath. God’s justice and mercy both shine brilliantly.
Conclusion – God’s Mercy and Justice Work Together
In conclusion, does God show mercy to everyone? The answer is nuanced. God clearly shows a general mercy to all people by providing for their earthly needs and desiring their repentance. But His saving mercy is particular, not universal. The elect receive redemptive mercy according to God’s sovereign plan for His glory.
This does not make God unjust, however. Sinners condemned for unbelief are punished justly for their own willful rejection of truth. God would be completely just to have mercy on none at all. Yet by showing redemptive mercy to some, He magnifies the riches of His mercy and grace.
The interplay between God’s mercy and justice is complex. Finite humans cannot fully comprehend it. But Scripture presents a God who is absolutely merciful yet also absolutely just. Both attributes reach their zenith at the cross of Christ, where mercy triumphs over judgment for sinners. In worshipful humility, we should adore God’s mercy and justice rather than demanding He justify His ways before us. By granting us any mercy at all, God demonstrates boundless love.
So does God show mercy to everyone? In different ways, yes and no. But for Christians who have received God’s saving mercy, our response should be the same – everlasting praise and gratitude for His amazing grace.