Crime has recently dropped in New York City. One reason attributed to this decline has been a shift in thought about policing: “If police view gang leaders … as capable of a life without crime, then the gang leaders might not see themselves as criminals. Police, in other words, separate the crime from ‘the criminal’ ” (“The Big Apple’s big drop in crime,” CSMonitor.com, Jan. 11, 2017).
Seeing an individual as able to be free of criminal behavior speaks to me of our inherent goodness. It hearks back to the Bible telling us that we are each created “very good” by God, and that, spiritually, we can never truly lose that goodness (Genesis 1:31). Starting in this way gives us a basis for reformation of character and an opportunity to express that pure identity.
Take the biblical example of Saul. He was so misled regarding the true nature of Christian teaching that he brought about the death of many followers of Jesus Christ. While he was on the road to Damascus, however, he had a vision of Christ Jesus that was so bright to his darkened thought that he became blind and had to be led by others into the city.
Among followers of Jesus who were praying for relief from Saul’s persecution was a man named Ananias. As he prayed, he was inspired by God to go to Saul – who would later be named Paul – and heal him of his blindness. Ananias had his doubts about this calling at first, but he trusted God. As a result, he not only healed Saul but also vouched for him to the other followers of Christ. In essence, he was willing to separate Saul’s deeds from the man, and to see the power of divine Love at work in his life.
This was a profound – and permanent – transformation. Paul went on to become a powerful Christian leader, sacrificing everything on behalf of the truth he came to understand in Christ Jesus’ teachings.
This example, along with many others in the Bible, reveals the power of Christ, which Christian Science Discoverer and Founder Mary Baker Eddy explains as “the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 332). Christ comes to each of us, leading us to a clearer understanding of who we are as the children of God and enabling us to experience that spiritual reality in productive lives.
In prayer for our communities, then, we can begin by recognizing that spiritual transformation of character is possible in anyone, whatever they might have done. And thought illumined by spiritual truth also makes it possible to see God working a change in others, as Ananias did. He went from fearing Saul to following Christ Jesus’ teaching: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And what a profound result he gained from doing so! Each of us today can pray for the spiritual understanding that uplifts character and supports those attempting to break free from destructive behavior.
Is it always easy to see beyond human failings to the pure spiritual identity we each have as God’s children? No, but such sincere, persistent prayer to understand that we are all spiritual, created by divine Love, God, can help inspire and encourage us and others to lead helpful lives. This growth in our spiritual understanding may come quickly or slowly. But every inspiration of the Christ light brightens our way and can light the path for others.