My little dog died last weekend. She had been sick for a while, and we had been nursing her along, trying different medications, but nothing seemed to help. Toward the end of her life, I’d gotten pretty frustrated with her accidents, and I’m afraid that at times I had an ungodly attitude toward her.

When she died, and I began to reflect on these recent months, the Lord convicted my heart deeply about my lack of mercy toward her. As I confessed this to the Lord, he brought to mind other situations where this same lack of mercy has crept into my heart. I sometimes judge others harshly and make assumptions about them of which I have no real knowledge, then form my attitude toward them accordingly.

Sadly, I am not alone in this apparent lack of mercy. Our society has become very judgmental over the last decade or so. In just the last few weeks, we’ve seen tirades on Facebook, slamming parents for things that happened to their children that were accidents. People have dug their heels into their own opinions, and have no qualms about slinging mud at those involved, attacking them personally, and viciously spewing their anger at those who disagree.

In this election year, we have seen no shortage of angry rants, hateful words, and even physical violence against those who disagree. To our shame, some of these are coming from people who identify as Christians. While I am sure that many of these self-proclaimed believers are not truly followers of Christ, I am equally sure that some are. My sisters, this should not be.

Blessed are the merciful,

For they shall obtain mercy.

Most of us are familiar with this quote from Matthew 5. It is one of the beatitudes, and was part of Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He is telling us that if we are merciful toward others, we also will obtain mercy from God. James takes this principle a little further:

So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12-13).

So, what is he saying here? At first glance, it would seem that he’s saying that God’s mercy on us is conditional upon our mercy toward others. This can’t be true though, at least in a salvific sense, because our salvation is not based on anything that we do, but solely on the mercy and grace of God. Here’s what James is saying: When we show mercy to others, it is evidence that we have received God’s mercy. A person who has truly experienced the grace and mercy of God cannot–at least for very long–withhold that same mercy and grace from someone else.

Dear readers, God has been very merciful to us. We make a mess of our lives, then come running to Him for help and comfort. We make mistakes and have accidents, and He never leaves us on our own or condemns us. He comforts us and helps us clean up the mess we’ve made by speaking to us through His Word, and sending other believers alongside us to help. He shows us His mercy by being merciful to us. If we are consistently unwilling to pass that same mercy on to others, then perhaps we need to examine our hearts and see if we are truly in the faith.

I received all of this conviction through the death of one little dog. A friend of mine suggested I read Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, and get his take on what happens to animals when they die. I did that, and I’m not sure if Alcorn is right about his conclusions, but one thing he wrote did help me with my perspective here. He points out something I had never noticed in Genesis 2:18-20:

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

Alcorn calls our attention to the fact that God made the animals with the idea of creating a helper for Adam. Granted, none of them were comparable to him because he was made in God’s image and the animals were not; but they were still created to help Adam. This particular little animal of mine has helped me in ways I didn’t even know about until she was gone. Throughout her life, she was a companion and comforter. In her last months, she was a challenge and a frustration. God has used her life and her death to reveal to me a condition of my heart that needed attention. Just as the animals helped Adam, my little dog was my helper in so many ways, the final one of which is the one I will remember when I think of her: Mercy triumphs over judgment.