Mercy is a special kind of love. It is compassionate love for one who does not deserve it, or for one who desperately needs it but can do nothing on his or her own to get it. A man who has been bested in a duel, who lies on the ground looking up at the sword point of the victor, has but one request – “Mercy!” The man who has been robbed and beaten, who lies bleeding on the side of the road, needs but one thing from all the passers-by – mercy.
A beautiful hidden gem of a verse in the third chapter of Genesis may just be a description of God’s first act of mercy. Of course we should qualify this by acknowledging that the stories of creation and the fall of humanity are not to be read literally in the sense of historical narratives. But they are stories of fundamental, essential spiritual truth, and for that reason, we can and should mine them again and again, drawing out of them all the sparkle and richness and value that we possibly can.
The verse I am referring to immediately follows the account of the first sin of Adam and Eve, the self-centered choice that begins a downward spiral of escalating violence and ultimately leads to the destruction of all but a small remnant of humanity (and all of this by Genesis 7!). The choice made by Adam and Eve to oppose God justly leads to their punishment, including banishment from the Garden of Eden. But it is this expulsion that prompts God’s mercy. It is as though he is thinking of the difficulties that await his children (for though they have sinned they are still and always will be his children) beyond the garden. Although he knows that Adam and Eve must leave the place of their sin, he wants to protect them. And so, “[f]or the man and his wife, the Lord God made leather garments, with which he clothed them” (Gen. 3:21).
True, you may say God was only covering the newfound shame of Adam and Eve (3:10-11). But he could have left this task to their own toil. Instead, he takes it upon himself to clothe them. He covers their nakedness, and in doing so, he protects them from the brutal sun and the harsher conditions they are likely to find outside the paradisal Eden.
In this verse, we read and imagine an unforgettable scene, an admittedly anthropomorphic image that conveys a very accurate truth about our God. Even when we bring suffering upon ourselves, he does not abandon us. He is moved with compassion. He himself takes up needle and thread and sews up protective garments, handcrafted from the bounty of his own creation, to clothe us in his mercy.