The mercy of God

You might ask: why is he saying this on this day? Well plough on…

It was the sinking of the Thai destroyer a week or so ago that provoked the thought, but it could have been any other of many recent and not so recent events. King David spoke in this way: Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. For he commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea to mount up to the heavens and go down again to the depths. Their souls melt because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like drunken men, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brings them out of their distress. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so he guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people, and praise him in the company of the elders. (Psalm 107)

We often think of the old tars as a rum lot. Men can be shamed by the suggestion that their language is such as even a sailor would not use. And we shall leave aside any comment on their personal lives which are likely more chaotic than what is common place in Neighbours or East Enders.

But they are men who despite their overtly godless lives display a fear of God. As the king spoke in the storm they cry out to the Lord. Yes, they feared the storm, but they also feared God. Not only do they fear him, they hope for something more. The psalm shows us what this is, it is the greatness of the mercy of God. The sailor who is swept overboard, to whom does his soul cry as his voice screams out above the roar of the sea to his ship mates? Who is it that hears him, and who rescues him? He is lost to the sea, but his mates are sailors who commit the lost of their fellow crewman to the sea and to the mercy of God their Maker.

We have an innate sense of the mercy of God, just as we have of his justice and his being. We carry it with us in every generation, in every nation, tribe and tongue. It may be deeply buried, covered with layer upon layer of religiosity or political dogma, but it cannot be suppressed. If God is god, he must be just and merciful. A god who is just but not merciful is a tyrant. A god who is merciful but not just is a failure. But the true and living God showed his justice and his mercy at the beginning when he spoke to Adam and Eve, and the memory of that remains with all of us to this very day.

It was about two thousand years ago that he fulfilled the promise he made; if you celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar, then today is the day you remember the birth of the one who would be born to die not as we do for our own sins, for he had none, but as the sinless Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. In the birth of this one, the mercy of God is demonstrated in superlativity, God takes flesh to die in the place of men.

When we consider our own lives, we may despair of them. What good have we done? We search it out and we find none. We find only mistakes and failures. Even the things we think we did well, we look more carefully and what do we find? Did we do good for its own sake, or for the praise that it brought to us? How have we treated others? As we want them to treat us, or merely as slaves to do what we want for us? Or we may look at what we think we have done of good, and find that it is illusory or ephemeral. It lasted a day, and it was gone. Like the ripples on a pond after stone has been thrown in, they wane and vanish. The wind blows and no trace remains. We do not deserve the mercy of God. No-one does. If mercy were deserved, it would not be mercy.

When the King wrote ‘they cry out to the Lord in their trouble’ he did not follow it with ‘and God asked, Why? What good have you done?’. No, the king simply added: ‘he brings them out of their distress’. The rescue was unconditional. They cried he rescued.

The terrorist (for that is what he really was) spoke to the King of Glory as he hung on the cross, but was not asked ‘Why should I remember you?’. He was simply told: Today, you shall be with me in Paradise.

How many others who go down to the sea in ships, and were lost but cried out to him who was born in Bethlehem and died on the cross have also heard his voice ‘Today! Today, you shall be with me.

We do not deserve his mercy, but he sent his Son, as many remember today, to show his mercy to the children of men.

O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness to the children of men.


I came across a new word today and thought to look it up. Well, it is not exactly a new word, but it was used in quite an unexpected context. The abyss is what we expect it to be, a deep, unfathomable hole, pit, mine labyrinth or whatever else may have the physical quality of depth, such as the sea. We speak of the abyss for depths beyond the fathoms we can count on two hands. So what is abyssal?

We also speak of the unfathomable wisdom of God. Paul declared: ‘O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable are his ways.’ His thinking is unfathomable, and therefore we could say abyssal. We speak of quiet rivers that run deep, in the context of men of few words but who think deeply, and when they speak, speak wisely. We could say of them that they are abyssal thinkers. They have abyssal thoughts. Just in case it needs to be said, but I hope the next few words are wasted, abyssal (deep) is not abysmal (out of the deep). Abysmal has a similar meaning, but it is, perhaps we could say, the negative form of the word. Abysmal thinking does not bear the fruit of wisdom but rather of folly.

So, when I heard the word used of thinking in a sociological context my understanding was quite straightforward. We need abyssal thinking in order to evaluate, analyse and understand the particular set of data that was being presented to us. I could hardly disagree. Deep thinking is indeed required to understand a complex data-set. Sometimes I wonder why we use jargon like that – data-set – a list of facts. We have to marshal our facts, place some on the right, and some on the left, and between them, the abyss. Woe to you who place the facts on the wrong side, your conclusions will be as defective as your placements.

But no, so it seems, we do not need abyssal thinking. We have to abandon it. At that point I understood that perhaps there is a meaning hidden somewhere in the abyssal depths of language to the word which I had failed to grasp. A quick read of a Wikipedia article might be a good place to start before reading the academic paper, so I looked up ‘abyssal – sociology’. Yes, Wikipedia has an article. What happened next may have been an artefact of the bug within my browser, but this is the article as you may see (or otherwise) in the picture below.

Abyssal – sociology

Yes, I have edited the screen shot. I have removed the endless (following an example and to use the word incorrectly) list of other open tabs, cut out my favourite icons, and removed some of the white space at the bottom of the screen, nevertheless what you see in this picture is what I see in the browser. I took it to be a message about the true meaning of abyssal. Just as it means unfathomable, it is itself unfathomable, as I was about to discover.

The article does exist. Refreshing the page brought it back out of the albanic abyss. Now recently I found myself in agreement with a sociologist, but today perhaps not. The opening words of the paper seem innocuous enough: Modern Western thinking is an abyssal thinking. I think (sic!) that that statement would even be true firstly without the first word and then also without the second. When we think we do it in order to reach a conclusion. We have to work something out, and that working out requires that we separate one side of the arguments from the other. There is an abyss between the arguments for (pros) and the arguments against (cons). Our thinking must identify that abyss and correctly position the evidence around it. (My quantumly minded friends may leave aside any notion they may have of the possibility of tunnelling through the abyss, and fans of Star Trek should for the time being refrain from using their warp drives). This is the way that logic works.

The paper then goes on however to present quite a different understanding of abyssal thinking. The abstract gives the game away by telling us that in the context of a particular struggle that a new kind of thinking is required, a post-abyssal thinking. I have misunderstood the use of the word abyssal. Indeed, if I have any kind of correct understanding at all of what is being said, it would not matter what word was used, as it is simply being used as a peg on to which to hang his argument that the ‘West’ (whatever that may mean) has a lot for which to answer if it is going to redeem its ‘colonial’ past, suggesting indeed that what is actually required is the overthrow of ‘Western’ thought.

We could have easily as said ‘Modern Western thinking is Tweedledeedum thinking‘. The paper does identify some parts of some Western thinking that is flawed, and clearly where thinking is flawed (Tweedledeedum) then it should be abandoned. A little careful abyssal thinking will help us find out those flaws.

Secondly, the paper does not appear to be about active thinking, that is what we do when we work with our minds to solve a problem, but rather about passive established opinions, which may be held thoughtlessly, and which may drive our actions and our views of other people.

I expect to be told that an overthrow is not what is meant. I disagree. The modern solution to many problems has involved an overthrow. The French revolution fell into the trap. Marx clearly propounded it, and we see the consequences in the countless deaths both in the Soviet Union and China as a consequence of the ruthless application of his doctrine. It is not true to say if we destroy everything we shall have a better world, but it suits those who want power in their own hands and not the hands of somebody else.

Thirdly, the paper appears only to be destructive in its intent. It characterises all modern Western thinking as abyssal (actually, I think it really intends to say abysmal), but there is much in Western thinking that is quite different to the straw man that it sets out.

Where is honour, respect, personality and individuality given to women if not in Western thought? Where is equal honour given to all men and women before the law without distinction as to class, caste, or religion if not in Western thought? Where is the rule of law respected above the rule of the despot if not in Western thought? And what is the invisible hand beneath this, if not the hand of God in his Word, which shows what he in his providence has established for the good of mankind? Without the influence of the Word of God in our society, we would be as bleak as those that are characterised here as on the other side of the line. I am not suggesting that all is as it should be, but certainly it is the case that not all is not as it should be.

I would like to take some words from the paper and apply them in a different context.

To give an example based on [events in the past twenty years, Cathay’s] modernity may be characterised as a socio−political paradigm founded on the tension between social regulation and social emancipation. This is the visible distinction that founds all [eastern] conflicts, both in terms of substantive issues and in terms of procedures. But underneath this distinction there is another, invisible one, upon which the visible one is founded. This invisible one is the distinction between metropolitan societies (Peking) and colonial territories (Hong Kong). Indeed, the regulation/emancipation dichotomy only applies to metropolitan societies. It would be unthinkable to apply it to colonial territories. The regulation/emancipation dichotomy has no conceivable place in such territories. There, another dichotomy would apply, the dichotomy between appropriation/violence, which, in turn, would be inconceivable if applied on this side of the line. Because the colonial territories were unthinkable as sites for the unfolding of the paradigm of regulation/emancipation, the fact that the latter did not apply to them did not compromise the paradigm’s universality.

Perhaps a Marxist would disagree with the suggested emendations.

As for abyssal thinking, I suggested at the start that this word does indeed characterise our thinking, whether we are Western, Eastern or Southern, but let us be careful that it does not also characterise the outcome of our thinking. Our words to others should not be abyssal, lest they be unfathomable, incomprehensible and abysmal.

It is only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who is unfathomable, unsearchable, inscrutable, abyssal, which we may sum up in but one word, ineffable, but revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Glory to his Name!

The paper by the way may be found here:

And a refutation of abyssal thinking in the context of racialised bilinguality here: