In The Next Page, Erin Newcomb reads stuff she likes and reflects on things eternal and earthly in the popular literature of our time.

Pope Francis is making headlines for more than his recent critique of Donald Trump; regarding the GOP hopeful’s expressed desire to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, Pope Francis stated “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” I certainly don’t see that as the only criterion that calls into question Trump’s status as a Christian; his tongue alone condemns him, though that qualification would, as far as my understanding of the gospel goes, eliminate most of the U.S. government as well. I doubt that my indictment will mean much to Trump or his supporters, who perhaps should consider something like Matthew 25:35-40 more closely.

Our faith should change the way that we operate in the world.

But as much as I dislike Trump and feel exasperated (and yes, a little ashamed) by the support he’s garnered thus far on a platform of vitriol and aggression, I’m trying to look at him through the perspective of some other things Pope Francis has said recently. Take, for instance, his New York Times Bestseller, The Name of God is Mercy. In the note to the reader, interviewer Andrea Tornielli cites the pope as claiming “The first and only step required to experience mercy…is to acknowledge that we are in need of mercy. ‘Jesus comes for us, when we recognize that we are sinners.’ All that’s necessary is not to imitate the Pharisee who stood in front of the altar and thanked God for not being a sinner ‘like other men.’” It’s easy enough, in this climate of political divisiveness, to find myself guilty of the same sin as Donald Trump, of building a wall instead of a bridge, even if my constructions are metaphorical.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some of my Protestant readers are already bristling because I am reviewing a book by the pope. I think those same readers will likely be bothered by how much attention this book pays to the sacrament of confession, which Protestants do not acknowledge as a sacrament. Between authorship and theological differences, there are a number of potential barriers for Protestant readers. There’s also a lot of truth in this book, and I found myself convicted and uplifted as I read again and again iterations of the same basic theme: “God forgives everyone, he offers new possibilities to everyone, he showers his mercy on everyone who asks for it. We are the ones who do not know how to forgive.” And it’s true. Across political affiliations or familial histories or old offenses from long-ago friends, we are the ones who resist mercy for ourselves and others at every turn.

And even in that call to forgive and to recognize our own desperate need for Christ’s mercy, Pope Francis distinguishes between sin and corruption; the first is weakness for which we repent (again and again). Corruption, though “is the sin which, rather than being recognized as such and making us humble, is elevated to a system, it becomes a mental habit, a way of living.” As much as I want to refer back to my opening argument here, it’s hard not to do so without reflecting inwardly. Do I think Trump is corrupt? Absolutely. Is my desire to point that out making me an awful lot like the Pharisee so confident in his own righteousness? Absolutely.

As Pope Francis points out later in the text, God always forgives “Because he is God, because he is mercy, and because mercy is the first attribute of God. The name of God is mercy.” That titular assertion carries the weight of the text. It’s not, if pressed, what I would have called “the first attribute of God” if you’d asked me before I read this book. I might have said Creator, or Savior, or Redeemer, but reading this book has prompted me to reconsider. I’m not sure, for argument’s sake, if there must be a first attribute that hierarchically precedes all other aspects of God. I mean, it is God, after all. At the same time, many of my own perceptions of God are possible only in light of his mercy toward me and my own awareness that I require that mercy. Without seeing myself as needing mercy, there would be no need for a Savior or Redeemer, and no worship for a Creator who made me and longs to be in right relationship with me. Clearly, mercy is not God’s only name, and maybe not his first name, but it is an essential name.

How that knowledge ought to affect the behavior of believers comes into play with Pope Francis’s discussion of “the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, dress the naked, house the pilgrims, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.” It sounds so straightforward when he says this, and yet the very next page proved much harder for me to swallow. He notes “the Spiritual Works of Mercy: advise those in doubt, teach the ignorant, admonish the sinners; console the afflicted; forgive offenses; be patient with annoying people; pray to God for both the living and the dead.” Now, I realize praying for the dead is not part of typical Protestant fare, but the item on this list that really stuck with me is “be patient with annoying people.” Can that truly be an act of mercy? It’s just that there are so many of them…

And it doesn’t take me long to recognize how many people are patient with me, too—how many people offer me mercy as that annoying person. Just how many people regard my political opinions as annoying? And for the record, that’s a rhetorical question; please don’t actually weigh in. I get the point that I need that mercy, too, because no matter how much I dislike someone’s perspective or personality, there’s at least someone out there who sees me as that person. I require mercy just as I am required to show mercy.

Much of the book calls upon its readers to act—in the name of mercy; and, indeed, if we acknowledge that God’s essence incorporates mercy, then we as professing Christians ought to practice that mercy. We should recognize it as part of our gift as heirs and apply it to the world in which we are called to be Christ’s hands and feet. This is not to confuse works and faith but to say that our faith should change the way that we operate in the world, that by acts of mercy we take on the name of mercy in some smaller way. We must be merciful by showing mercy. To be merciful requires discernment and judgment—that someone is hungry or sinful or grieving—but it also moves us beyond judgment as punishment to the process of setting things right. It is, after all, only through God’s mercy toward us that we can be right with Him. And so to you, perhaps, I may be just another annoying person, but I am an annoying person who lives in the light of God’s great mercy.