When a driver rammed another car into a wall during a NASCAR race a few weeks ago, the resulting crash made headlines. Injury wasn’t the focus of the news reports, however, as no one was hurt. What attracted widespread attention was the driver’s open admission that his motive was payback for an incident at an earlier race. Commentators defended this act of retaliation.
A desire for retaliation stands in stark contrast to the basic Christian teaching known as the golden rule. Articulated by Christ Jesus, this statement could be called the ultimate guide for human behavior: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matt. 7:12). And when one of his disciples asked, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Jesus’ firm response was “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21, 22).
Why forgive when we’ve been mistreated? The short answer shines in Jesus’ own life: Forgiveness heals. Jesus’ way of viewing his fellow beings transformed ills and wrongs into health and redemption. Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy explained his outlook this way: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 476–477). Given the array of sins Jesus healed, this viewpoint clearly reformed wrongdoers as well – never excusing the offense, but destroying the temptation to do harm.
Seeing the image of God in those who wrong us may seem tough. Yet, from biblical times to the present day, contention and ill will have been neutralized through the commitment to look for and accept the innate goodness in others. Bible accounts of reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, and later, Jacob’s son Joseph and his brothers, reveal the joy of forgiveness. In more recent history, South African statesman Nelson Mandela committed himself to pardon and peace after more than 20 years of unjust imprisonment. His example has inspired others to rise above grudge-holding and revenge.
If we’re slighted in the give-and-take of daily life, we have a stellar opportunity to view ourselves and the offender as God has created each of us – entirely good, like Him. As we’re faithful to this spiritual standpoint, we’ll see human minds and hearts corrected and regenerated. Even in the aftermath of intentionally hurtful acts, it’s possible to see justice done and to feel the mercy Jesus expressed in these words: “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:36, 37).
“Love your enemies” is not outdated or toothless advice. It’s a resounding call to be merciful that applies to every corner of the world. A short prayer by Mrs. Eddy can help us find and feel our inherent generosity of spirit in any situation: “[W]e solemnly promise to watch, and pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure” (Science and Health, p. 497).
Every effort we make to forgive helps erase thoughts and acts that are inconsistent with our original, real God-like nature – not only for ourselves, but for those who still believe that aggressive or retaliatory action is normal and necessary. Mercy begins to pervade all our interactions, on the racetrack and beyond.