To make the world a safer place

Originally published in The Christian Science Journal

I would like to say I was deep in prayer, but I probably wasn't, as I strolled along Broadway through the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A young man, lurching unsteadily, approached me. He appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. As we were about to pass each other, he flipped out a switchblade and went for my stomach. I quickly stepped around his knife, much as a busy New Yorker might step around someone passing out leaflets.

And then I really was deep in prayer. As I continued on my way, I was filled with gratitude to God for His protective presence. By the time I reached the end of the block, I realized that I was OK. But what about the young man with the knife? What about the other pedestrians? And what was I doing walking away? I ran back down the sidewalk to do something - I wasn't sure what - to protect both him and the public. But he had disappeared.

I salted the incident away and for a long time looked back on it with ambivalence. Eventually my gratitude for God's protection outweighed whatever disappointment I felt about the rest of the episode. But I still hoped for a second chance, another opportunity not just to find my own protection but also to see more of the divine law of safety at work on everyone's behalf.

The presence of a divine law is underscored in a Bible passage that records God as saying, "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33). So this law, and the inclination to obey it, is already inherent in every one of us. I realized that I could acknowledge that in prayer. That would help stop crime. It would help steer a potential criminal toward better actions and a potential victim down safer paths. Such prayer was a start.

Nowhere is divine law given a more cogent statement than in the Ten Commandments. In an amplification of what the first of those commandments implies, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself;' annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, - whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 340.)

As I pondered this, I could see that the divine law was inescapably in force. It had measureless impact to end crime and preserve safety. I could be sure of that for today and tomorrow. I could even know it for yesterday. The reach of divine law is that great. This was helpful when I thought back on bad encounters. I knew that every glimpse of God's nature and action helps to erase harm or the threat of harm.

A year or two after the knife episode, I was working at my Manhattan office, which was open to people seeking prayer-based solutions for their problems. One day a man came in and told me about his troubles, which included alcoholism and a lengthy criminal record. We hit it off, and he returned repeatedly.

On one occasion I told him the story of the man on Broadway. He chuckled ruefully and said, "It was probably me." I paused. I sensed he wasn't confessing or speaking from a memory, but was simply acknowledging a past with many wrong turns. Still, I rewound the tape in my mind and watched that scene from a year or two earlier. The man on the street had had the same red hair as the one sitting in front of me. The build of each was essentially the same. Was it the same face? I couldn't tell, and I never knew for sure.

Of course, it didn't really matter. What mattered was that here was yet another chance to see that the divine law of good was still in operation. It wasn't too late to perceive God's nature and action. It wasn't too late to help. It never is. With every effort to glimpse something of the divine law within each heart - a law that inclines everyone toward right and safe actions - individuals can help reduce crime. They can help make the world a safer place.

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