Mercy for the Damned

February 7, 2018 by

Image of a drawing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Artwork by Joelle Hine

Recently, I was unexpectedly stirred when one of my students, who was giving an oral presentation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted the great advocate of nonviolence and forgiveness: “Love is the answer to mankind’s problems.” King believed in the power of love, not just as a personal response to hate, but as a redemptive, irresistible force: “Do to us what you will, and we will still love you… We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

In our divided, violent world today, we need to plumb the depths of King’s convictions. So many people, through their abominable actions, seem to place themselves beyond the reach of redemption and restoration. Yet Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter” (Mark 3:28). Jesus even forgave the ones who crucified him, while they were doing it.

So when we followers of Jesus find ourselves, as I sometimes do, overwhelmed by the tide of tragedies around us, what is our responsibility? I believe the answer can be found in the fourteenth through sixteenth chapters of the Gospel of John, where Jesus repeats an amazing six times a variation of the plea: “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples… Whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

We fail to grasp the awesomeness of this promise, surrounded as we are by lives cut short, by seemingly lost souls, by hopelessness. We are meant to pray, to ask, and to believe that our prayers will reach into the darkest abysses to redeem, in ways we cannot yet imagine, even into eternity itself. As King said, love of this kind – divine love – is unstoppable and knows no bounds.

Seventy-five years ago, a few inmates of the Ravensbruck concentration camp grasped this responsibility of love. Penned anonymously on a scrap of filthy wrapping paper was a prayer: “Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.”

Dostoyevsky grasped it, too, in this homily from the lips of Father Zosima:

Young man, do not forget to pray… Every day and whenever you can, repeat within yourself: ‘Lord, have mercy upon all who come before you today.’ For every hour and every moment thousands of people leave their life on this earth, and their souls come before the Lord – and so many of them part with the earth in isolation, unknown to anyone, in sadness and sorrow that no one will mourn for them, or even know whether they had lived or not. And so, perhaps from the other end of the earth, your prayer for his repose will rise up to the Lord, though you did not know him at all, nor he you. How moving it is for his soul, coming in fear before the Lord, to feel at that moment that someone is praying for him, too, that there is still a human being on earth who loves him. And God, too, will look upon you both with more mercy, for if even you so pitied him, how much more will he who is infinitely more merciful and loving than you are. And he will forgive him for your sake. Brothers, do not be afraid of men’s sin, love man also in his sin, for this likeness of God’s love is the height of love on earth.

So when we read horrendous things in the news, instead of becoming sad and depressed, we should remember to pray. For lives cut short, for those who come before God with no one to think of them: “Forgive their sins.” And for those in the grip of darkness and despair: “Lord, intervene.” I believe that millions of prayers like this from around the world will not go unanswered. I believe in the fruit that will be borne of redemptive love. As Dr. King so eloquently stated: “We will not only win freedom for ourselves… we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

Dan Hallock is the author of Six Months to Live. He lives at the Beech Grove Bruderhof in England with his wife, Emily, and their three children.


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