THERE never seems to be a shortage of bystanders who are a bit more anxious to catch the criminal than they are to understand the crime. It's not always easy to see past the troublemaker. He's visible, available, and punishable one way or another. But it's the trouble he's caught up in that needs pondering and, as many of us discover sooner or later, praying about humbly. As a hymn verse puts it, ``We need a sacred watchfulness,/An earnest deep desire for grace,/Our lives with true content to fill.''1
The point is made powerfully enough in that incident involving the woman taken in adultery, who was brought to Christ Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees.2 There apparently was no question that a crime had been committed. Eyewitnesses had caught her in the act. Everybody knew the standard severe punishment.
But the Christ was present, in the pure consciousness of the Master, and this altered the situation. His opponents thought they might tempt him to make a no-win judgment about the woman's conduct. They figured he would be forced to contradict either the ancient laws of retribution or his own teaching of love and forgiveness, and they could then bring a charge against him.
Jesus responded differently. The Bible tells us he ``stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.'' When they persisted in wanting an answer, he said, ``He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.'' He admonished the crowd, ignoring the ``criminal'' woman for a moment and addressing the evil of the incident itself. In due course he instructed her, ``Go, and sin no more''--but without condemnation.
Whenever scandal confronts us-- personal, community, national, even international--healing comes quicker for all concerned if the persuasions of evil are dealt with promptly, thoroughly. Vengeance ``feels good''--as the crowd self-righteously made clear to Jesus in his day. But it doesn't redirect the way somebody thinks and lives toward reformation and regeneration, and that's the deepest need. Nothing is more important than bringing out in human lives more of what really constitutes man as God's spiritual image. No one's salvation can be forwarded through a mistaken view of God or of the man He has created.
``What a pitiful sight is malice, finding pleasure in revenge!'' Mary Baker Eddy3 writes. And she adds: ``Evil is sometimes a man's highest conception of right, until his grasp on good grows stronger.... The way to escape the misery of sin is to cease sinning. There is no other way.''4
My work involves news reporting, and the ``crowd temptations'' are present every day. Persistent, humble prayer, I find, subjects journalistic disciplines to spiritual intuitions, to divine leadings, to yielding to God's directing. Nothing damaging happens to reportorial skills in this yielding; but there is a revising of priorities as the importance of prayer becomes more and more apparent. In fact, I've found my skills significantly sharpened in many instances as the result of prayer. Spiritual-mindedness naturally removes any basis for prejudice and bias. At the heart of powerful prayer is some understanding of God's total supremacy and of the spiritual reality that He alone governs man. Circumstances may appear to contradict this, but prayer helps to change circumstances by bringing to light more of God's government and more of the perfect man that He has created.
``Divine Love corrects and governs man,'' Mrs. Eddy writes. ``Men may pardon, but this divine Principle alone reforms the sinner.''5
It takes bold prayer lift the heart above simply condemning people and to find a solution to wrongdoing. It has become clear to me that throwing a stone is never the need of the moment.
1Christian Science Hymnal, No. 332. 2See John 8:3-11. 3The Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 4Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 327. 5Ibid., p. 6. DAILY BIBLE VERSE Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Genesis 18:25