The images intruded on my evening - rioters and looters burning buildings and plundering shops. Senseless ethnic violence. The television news that night was from Jakarta, Indonesia. But it could have been so many places, almost anyplace, really.
I'd closed my eyes and uttered a prayer while I was watching. Something like "Dear God, help me know the brotherhood of man." The news moved on to the next story. Dinner was ready. The routine of the evening took over. But now those images are back, and I find myself wanting to do more, needing to do more.
Sometimes prayer begins with a yearning to understand, as it did for me that evening. What could actually restrain people from violence? What could give them the wisdom and patience to find lawful, peaceful ways to correct injustice and corruption? What constructive force could compel reform in individuals and governments? Only a universal, supreme power, able to renew and govern individual hearts. Only the grace of God.
One way to think about grace might be as the divine influence on humanity to be good. Twenty-six centuries ago the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah recorded God as saying: "I will write my laws on their hearts and minds. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they have to teach one another to obey me. I, the Lord, promise that all of them will obey me, ordinary people and rulers alike" (Jer. 31:33, 34; Contemporary English Version).
Prayer doesn't actually make this ideal come true, but it does make what's already true - God's all-powerful love and control - more apparent to us in tangible, practical ways. We've probably all felt the power of God's grace in simple ways without even recognizing it. Maybe we refrained from judging hastily and really listened to a different point of view, or found a way to make a needed point without offending someone. And there's evidence of divine grace operating on the world scene, too.
In a speech arranged by the World Affairs Council of Boston earlier this year, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres recalled a significant moment in Middle East peace negotiations. He and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to negotiate with their archenemy, the Palestine Liberation Organization. They were motivated by a moral reason, he said, because "to remain a dominator of another people stands against everything Judaism stands for."
"It wasn't an easy proposition," he observed, "because I'm sure [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat thought we are probably terrible people - human beings with horns. May I say we felt the same. To me it was a shock that we forgot the human dimension and were deeply involved in demonization in a mutual way." Yet the men met, overcame a revulsion even to shake hands, and began to work together.
Despite countless setbacks, peacemakers such as these in all parts of the world continue to labor and to have faith in ultimate success. What but divine influence could support such unflagging patience, wisdom, and perseverance? And can't we see that influence in Indonesia, too - for example, in what one analyst later commended as the maturity of the Indonesian people in the face of turmoil?
"Grace and Truth are potent beyond all other means and methods," wrote Mary Baker Eddy in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (Pg. 67). Our prayers are a means of grace when they proceed from the understanding that God is infinite Love, divine Truth itself. God is All - the very substance and intelligence of all existence. The reality is that there's nothing outside of His allness, nothing opposed to it. God's offspring aren't independent egos programmed for selfishness and corruption. They're the manifestation and spiritual likeness of God, inscribed with God's law. Divine grace is supreme. Nothing can prevent it from prevailing in the world, because it is finally the influence that shapes us all.