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Choosing mercy

A Christian Science perspective: Mercy that blesses the forgiver and the forgiven.

March 1, 2013



Sometimes you come across an idea that is so transformative that it feels as if it changes your whole life. Mercy was one of those for me. It started when I read an article on the Home Forum page of the Monitor called “History in the hands of mercy.” It told the story of three generations of merciful acts that seemed to ripple out in response to each other.

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The first one occurred when the writer’s father was in World War I and had the opportunity to kill a young German soldier, and decided not to. Then, during World War II, that same father was sitting on a white bench in his front yard in Wales, and a German fighter plane appeared over a hill and began strafing the nearby hillside. As the plane flew right at him, the father and the pilot were close enough to make eye contact, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, the pilot turned the plane and soared off.

Then, years later, the writer was in his office in Canada, and a man came to ask for his professional help. The writer was able to help this man, who had been the chief engineer during World War II designing the type of German fighter aircraft that had flown so close past the father years earlier.

The writer saw this encounter as evidence of mercy rippling through the decades – of the premise that every merciful act sets up a response of lovingkindness that endlessly goes on blessing and blessing in widening circles, actually transforming human history.

That view of mercy made a huge impression on me. Suddenly I was faced with the possibility that even the tiniest act of mercy on my part, or even the smallest charitable thought I entertained, could have worldwide impact and could help leaven the whole of human history with waves of compassion and brotherly love. And accordingly, it seemed less difficult to make the choice to be merciful if mercy could have such a large effect.

I also began to wonder if there was a level of mercy so pure and spiritual that it could not be taken advantage of or be used as a doormat, because it affects thought in such a way that it not only draws forth more mercy, but it also rules out the possibility of an offender or an offense. The beauty of this kind of mercy would be that it blesses both the forgiver and the forgiven.

I conjectured that this must have been the mercy that Christ Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). It must have been the level of thought that the Master experienced when he was on the cross and could say about those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

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