Forgiveness is being good to those who are not good to you. Mercy is refraining from punishing a person who deserves that punishment because of unjust behavior. Both are moral virtues and so hold that in common. When people forgive, they exercise mercy in that as they forgive they do not give an eye-for-an-eye to the one who hurt you. Instead, the forgiver offers a hand up to the person to come and join you as a person of worth. Mercy as part of forgiveness is a specific expression of mercy in that this mercy is occurring in the context of being treated unjustly by another or others.
There are other examples of mercy that do not include forgiveness. For example, legal pardon is a form of mercy in that a judge may reduce a deserved sentence within a court of law. The judge offering legal pardon never is the one who was treated unjustly by the defendant. Forgiveness, as a personal decision, occurs within the human heart, not in a court of law. Thus, forgiveness includes mercy, but mercy can occur in entirely different contexts than forgiveness. Further, forgiveness does not involve only exercising the moral virtue of mercy. Forgiveness also is an expression of love, particularly agape or the kind of love that is challenging and even costly to the forgiver.
“My father abandoned our family when I was 6 years old. I am now grown, in college, and he has come around now that the pressure is off. He wants to establish a relationship with me, but I do not even know him. Does it seem kind of phony to now go ahead with this?”
It is never too late to forgive. You see your father’s mistakes. I think that he sees them, too. You surely have a right to your anger. At the same time, you could give your father a huge gift of mercy and aid your own emotional healing if you have mercy on him and consider forgiveness. It will take a strong will and courage for you to do this. You will know if and when you are ready.