In the books of 1 and 2 Kings in the First Testament, we read about various men who were in charge of Israel and Judah in ancient Israel.
Usually, the various sections are introduced with the name of the king and a bit of his genealogy, then, without even a spoiler alert, a judgment of the quality of the man himself as king.
One such judgement is found in 1 Kings 16, where King Ahab is introduced and the chronicler describes him this way, "But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him."
That's definitely not a good way to start the next 7 chapters which will give us an overview of Ahab's reign as king.
Ahab lives up to this billing. He worships idols - which is #1 on the big no-no list. He ignores direct and specific instructions that the Lord gives him. And to top it off, he's complicit in a murder scheme so he can acquire a bit of land in his own kingdom. You may have heard of his wife. Her name was Jezebel. She wasn't a very reputable person, either.
If anybody deserved what he had coming to him, Ahab certainly did. Even his own servants were afraid of him, because apparently ticking him off meant certain death.
Toward the end of Ahab's life, God sends a prophet to tell Ahab of the judgment he is under for his selfish, sinful behavior. Ahab's response, according to 1 Kings 21, was stark. "But when Ahab heard this message, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning" (v. 27)
Now, if I was in charge, the next verse would have read something like this: "But God was like, "I don't think so skipper. You murdered a dude for his little plot of land. Throwing a little pity party for yourself ain't gonna change nuthin."
But instead, here's God's reaction: "Then another message from the Lord came to Elijah: "Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.” (vv. 28-29)
This guy was king for 22 years. At no point do we have evidence he ever did anything of redemptive value. He dies trying to get another guy to die for him.
Yet God responds to his call for mercy, when I would have called him out for crocodile tears.
In fact, I can't think of a single time in all of the scriptures, Hebrew or Greek when a person asks for mercy from God and does not receive it.
Sure, there are times that God's judgment falls on people. But I don't recall any of that happened after a person asks for mercy.
In fact, the story of Jonah is about one of God's own prophets being ticked off at God for God being TOO merciful. He wanted God to be a little more conservative with his willingness to forgive.
I often meet people who feel that God probably can't or won't forgive them. That, to be perfectly blunt, is a lie from hell itself. No cry for mercy or forgiveness apparently ever goes unheeded or unfulfilled.
Now someone may take this to the logical extreme and ask, "What if Hitler asked for God's mercy? Would God give it to him?"
I'd have to say yes. I'd also say that he, along with anyone and everyone else, will still have to face consequences for the choices we make, including the selfish and sinful ones.
Yet God's mercy is so available, it almost feels reckless. Irresponsible. Wouldn't it encourage people to be horrible?
Yet the crazy part is that most people acting like that don't want it. And if they understood it, it would likely transform their lives. That's not the case for Ahab, and God knew he would keep being kind of a jerk, yet God forgave him anyways.
So let us share news of the incredible, available mercy of God, that it may remove the shame which too often keeps us where we're at instead of freeing us to live life to it's fullest.