As people of faith, we look for instructions and opportunities to understand ways in which mercy is granted and compassion is revealed. No doubt, there are times when we feel it is very difficult to forgive or pardon someone who hurts us or our loved ones. Regardless of our faith tradition, Sacred Texts provide unambiguous examples of compassion and how we are to forgive even someone who is guilty.
There may be resistance to extending compassion to someone who intentionally causes harm, but that is exactly what God did for Moses and David.
In Judeo-Christian texts, the stories of Moses and David deserve particular attention to see how their relationships with God helped provide insight into horrendous crimes they committed and were forgiven. It is important to caution against a misplaced notion that it doesn’t matter what we do to others, including hurting or killing them. It matters severely and holding people accountable for their actions is critically important. But that does not eliminate the wrongdoer from being forgiven.
In the exodus story, Moses observes the mistreatment of his kinsmen at the hands of an overseer. Outraged by the injustice, Moses murders the oppressor (Exodus 2:11-13). That act led Moses to becoming a felon fugitive who had to escape the punishment of a state execution. Yet, as the story continues, that same Moses eventually became the giver of the law that Christians and Jews continue to follow today, including the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” is among them and delivered by Moses.
David, the greatest king of ancient Israel, exceeded the high crime committed by Moses. David lusted after the wife of a loyal warrior who fought wars for his king. David first committed adultery with Bathsheba while her husband, Uriah, was away in battle. (2 Samuel 11:2-5)
As horrible as that act was, it does not measure up to David’s more serious crime of murdering an innocent man so he could take his woman and make her his wife. In fact, David’s scheme was so vile, he secretly ordered Uriah’s death in a letter that he handed to Uriah to deliver to his military commander. (2 Samuel 2:14-17)
Those acts of violence did not go unnoticed by God; yet, through repentance and grace, Moses and David were forgiven. There is a divine expectation for followers of religious teachings to live and walk in step with God’s example. That does not signify crimes are to be ignored and persons who commit them are not to be punished. Instead, punishment is the not final outcome for misdeeds and mistakes; even when they are intentionally and consciously committed.
The Quran also provides clarity on the importance of mercy which is mentioned 200 times. Followers of Allah, the Most Merciful, also are instructed to extend forgiveness. It is written, “Let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you. And Allah is forgiving and merciful.” (Quran 24:22)
In Islam, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.” We, too, are expected to forgive anyone who hurts us today. The blaring outcries for “justice” to retaliate rather than pardon can drown our voices.
There is great power in mercy. Everyday we are given an opportunity to practice the deeper depths of our faith against a tide of vicious and angry demands to punish without forgiveness. The course toward restorative justice moves us in a direction that leads to healing and renewal. It grants persons who have yet to feel the balm of forgiveness “A New Way of Life.” (Susan Burton)
Women and men, youth and young adults, boys and girls re-enter our communities after serving sentences in prisons, jails, youth authorities, and detention centers. To achieve the goal of resetting their lives, we must learn how to forgive them and offer much needed resolution.
Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs
Executive Director Emeritus of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.