Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa are unlikely friends. At one time both men plotted to kill each other and sowed hatred among their fundamentalist followers, fueling a deadly rivalry. But they have since put their past behind them in the interest of bringing peace to Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, the largest nation in the world that has a population that is half Muslim and half Christian. The dividing line at the heart of the conflict is in the city of Kaduna in Northern Nigeria, where the pastor and imam both live. They say that what unites them is a spiritual commitment to God, despite their differing views on faith, and the desire to make the world a better place. They now model that spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation to bring peace to the region (see “A pastor and an imam once tried to kill each other – now they work to heal Nigeria,” PRI.org).
A recent Monitor editorial, “When disaster brings reconciliation,” points out: “Missions of mercy have a way of softening hard hearts between adversaries. Differences dissolve in the face of suffering and an outpouring of empathy. ”
Some might describe merciful acts as the rallying of the human spirit in the face of adversity, or humanitarian efforts that are core to being a good citizen or neighbor. Others might see that at the heart of their efforts is the kind of spiritual commitment to choose good over evil, and to choose love over hate, that the Nigerian pastor and imam have practiced.
In my experience, I have seen how a clear sense of the deep connection we each have to God leads us to choose what best promotes peace. From my study of Christian Science, I have come to understand that God is good, and the source of all. With divine goodness as our primary source, we see our true connection to each other as spiritual reflections of God. Christ Jesus spoke of us reflecting the divine in this way when he said, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). He showed and proved that expressing mercy is a reflection of the love that comes from God. Relying on this divine goodness to inspire our actions and words to be merciful brings reconciliation and healing to otherwise intractable situations.
A poignant example of the reconciliation inspired by God is found in the story of Joseph in the Bible. Joseph’s devotion to God defined and determined harmony in his thinking despite deep challenges in his life. He endured near death at the hands of his own brothers, slavery, character defamation, and false imprisonment. But in each case, it was his commitment to prayer and following divine wisdom that brought him freedom from slavery and prison, and kept him from being overtaken by anger, revenge, and self-righteousness.
During years of famine, Joseph was promoted to a position that allowed him to save both his family in Israel and the Egyptians, whom he served. Instead of seeking revenge on his brothers, he chose mercy in the face of their adversity. He also relieved them of any guilt when he said, “Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). He recognized his God-given purpose, which blessed all. His family was not only rescued from famine through Joseph’s generosity and kindness, but also reunited.
We each can learn much from Joseph’s example, which is characterized in the Christian Science textbook as “pure affection blessing its enemies” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 589). It’s this kind of affection that challenges conflict in the world. Pure, Godlike love is the most powerful path to peace and reconciliation.