Day 23

God’s Mercy and Compassion

from the Romans reading plan

Romans 9:1-19, Exodus 32:30-32, Ephesians 1:3-6

BY Guest Writer

Scripture Reading: Romans 9:1-19, Exodus 32:30-32, Ephesians 1:3-6

You’ve probably been there—that terrible moment when you feel like you’re watching a train about to wreck. Your roommate chooses to stay in a toxic relationship. Your child makes a series of self-destructive decisions. Your brother or sister persists in a state of total denial. Your friend walks away from God.

Helplessness is a special kind of agony, especially when it comes to our loved ones. This is the agony Paul expresses in Romans 9 about the choices of Israel. Having had his eyes opened to the light of the gospel, Paul realizes with great anguish that many of his people—God’s people—have not awakened to the good news of Jesus Christ. Theologian N. T. Wright describes Paul’s reaction this way: “[Paul] was like someone driving in convoy who takes a particular turn in the road and then watches in horror as most of the other cars take the other fork.”

Paul’s sorrow is so great that he would rather take their place: “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the benefit of my brothers and sisters” (v.3). This chapter, then, is not a cold, calculating explanation of Israel’s history and fate. Instead, Paul is wrestling with the mysterious ways of God, and he doesn’t arrive at many neat and tidy conclusions.

In Romans 9, Paul engages some complex theological questions, but if we zoom in a bit and look at his heart, we might recognize our own. Most of us have walked in Paul’s shoes—grieving the rebellion, blindness, or self-destruction of someone we love. From Paul’s own wrestling with heartache, we can discern two spiritual principles:

1. None of us can boast. None of us stands on moral high ground. God’s grace was not extended to us on the basis of human merit, but divine mercy. That is the principle Paul points to throughout the history of Israel: Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. These men, these chosen ones who constituted the line of Abraham, were not selected because of their outstanding moral character, but because of the free compassion of God. As Paul explains, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (v.16). In other words, none of us can pat ourselves on the back for our good choices or our strong faith, while silently judging others. It is all a gift, so that none of us should boast.

2. God is sovereign. The relationship between God’s power and our free will is a mysterious one, indeed. But when it comes to the decisions of a loved one, God’s sovereignty removes a great deal of weight from our shoulders. Namely, we cannot force someone to make the right choice. We cannot yell someone into wisdom. We cannot wrestle someone into agreeing with us. And we cannot compel transformation. There is only One who directs the streams of human hearts, and that is God alone.

The sovereignty of God does not permit us to become callous, nor does it permit complacency. Like Paul, we should mourn destruction whenever we encounter it. But it can relieve us of a burden we were never meant to bear.

Only God knows the whole picture and the entire story. Our task is to share the good news to the best of our ability, in humility, and then prayerfully leave the rest to Him.


Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mom, and she holds a PhD on women and calling. She is a regular contributor to Propel, blogs at, and her first book releases in October 2017.

Post Comments (133)

133 thoughts on "God’s Mercy and Compassion"

  1. Rachael says:

    What if God hardens hearts for just a little while? The passage doesn’t say he hardens their heart forever. What if he hardens some hearts for months or even 20 or 30 years, all for many purposes and then leads them back to Him in the perfect time?

    1. Sarah Lahoda says:

      Rachael, I couldn’t agree more. I have been led to pray for specific friends and family members that the Lord would soften their hearts and remove the blinders from their eyes, that He would choose them and draw them to Himself. I believe He’s the one who enables people to see the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4-6). Let’s keep asking Him to soften hearts, enlighten minds, and open eyes to see His glory!

  2. Charlotte says:

    Sometimes I feel guilty that I am chosen, and not others. Why me? I feel undeserving most days to know that I have this new life in Christ while others I love have not accepted Christ. They know the gospel, I pray for them daily. Why has God not given them the heart He has given me?

  3. Cathy says:

    This devotional was so timely. I’m wrestling with understanding how someone has not received God. Tough to understand

  4. Zoe says:

    Romans 9:3 and Exodus 32:32 really hit me. What amazing, Christlike love demonstrated by these two spiritual leaders to the point of wishing their own damnation for the sake of their people. May I be so burdened by the reality of my loved ones’ fallen state.

  5. Berta says:

    He already knows the choices we’re going to make and those we love. His mercy and compassion are boundless! We can never take for granted what he’s done for us! May all of us choose him over ourselves and our pride and our complacency.

  6. Joyce says:

    A good feeling to know that God has lifted the burden from my shoulders, and only He can direct the human heart to follow in His path!!

  7. Mandi Garcia says:

    Everything about this is on POINT. Loved it so much. Such a great reminder of what God has given to us. We don’t deserve any of it and not even for a second can we began to think that we are better than other people. It’s only because of God’s compassion, and mercy that I am even able to experience such a love through his son Jesus Christ.

  8. Mackenzie says:

    This is so on point for me right now. My best friend has become engaged to a totally unGodly man. For the last few months I have felt this duty to tell her that I don’t approve and that she needs to pray more about it and realize the level of commitment. This passage has just taken that burden off my shoulders. I will continue to press in on praying for her, for God to speak to her heart, but I no longer carry the responsibility of saving her from it.

    1. Donna says:

      Mackenzie, I believe you are called to love your friend well and that might look like a hard conversation with her about where her heart is at in choosing a man who does not love the Lord. But you are absolutely right, the burden of how she responds is not on you at all. You are right in praying for your friend, that the Lord would open her eyes but a lot of times he uses good friends to help us see our sin for sin.

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