The Urantia Book Fellowship

Learning to be Merciful in Our Relationships

Dr. Jeffry Wattles
See also, "The Memory of Mercy" -- The Urantia Book, 28:6.2


Dietrich Bonhoeffer counseled a couple on their wedding day, "Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts." The daily practice of being merciful in your relationships keeps weeds from springing up and choking out the flowers in the garden of our relationships. The Urantia Book teaches that mercy is a process, a profound spiritual exercise, the completion of justice, and a joyful experience of partnership with God. In my experience, the passage of greatest social value in the book is the description at [28:6.2] of that mercy process. The more one practices the five steps, the more meaningful they become, and the more their power is evident.

1. The first step in the mercy process is to be just.

This means at least two things for me:

Remove logs. Is there a log in my eye, some pride or anger that is distorting my moral perception?

Clarify the violation. Exactly what moral principle or ethical law has been violated? Often I find that I cannot answer this question with anything definite. I am merely irritated by someone else's behavior, and the mercy process is not truly indicated; it is I who need to grow in understanding and love.

In some cases, I need as part of the Justice step to initiate the "Jesus grievance procedure" (see The Sermon on Forgiveness, [159:1] by going personally to the individual and lovingly confronting him or her.

In some cases, I need to go as far as involving groups with judicial authority. But I must at least be free of mental poisons, and I must be very clear about what violation I believe occurred. Being just is-- as I interpret this paragraph at [28:6.2]--the personal virtue governing the experience of "group understanding."

The hardest times are when an individual persistently refuses to acknowledge wrongdoing or to amend his ways. When this occurs, it blocks the ideal completion of the mercy process. Social authority may act, but unresolved issues await a higher stage of universe progress.

In a family, people learn to agree to disagree. If one member insists on the others' meeting his or her own standards, freedom perishes or the family breaks asunder. When is an issue worth insisting on that much? Some issues are worth it. Not many.

2. Next, we must be fair.

Fairness means taking into account the antecedents that caused the unfortunate behavior in question. If there was a lapse in the effectiveness of spiritual motives, then it must be possible to understand the material motives whose history helps explain things.

Comprehend the motive. This is the prime requisite in understanding people. It is easy to forget to even wonder why a person did something; and it is easier to postulate motives than discover them. One of the most powerful prayers is, "Please, God, help me love this person."

Praying for someone is more than scanning the individual's name on a prayer list. It means savoring the relationship, waiting for illumination, and preparing to interact. It means sensing what God is doing in that person's life and adding our own finite support for that enterprise. Some readers have stumbled over the recommendation in the Urantia Book about letting others know you are praying for them. It would be injurious to say, "I'm praying that God will help you overcome your obnoxious parenting style." It probably would not even do to say, "Raising children is a tremendous undertaking, and I pray for divine wisdom and grace for you"; but one could surely manage to express something like, "I have really been enjoying praying for you lately."

This part of the process requires us not only to see the good motives that may have been present in unfortunate behavior; but we also need compassionate regard for the less noble motives that are part of the common heritage of humankind. Fear, vanity, sex hunger, thirst for wealth and power, ease-seeking, problem-avoidance, insincerity--each of us has a portion of these. They have an evolutionary role to play, and overcoming them does not have to be a lonely struggle.

The discovery of motives is not a one way street; mercy is not something that one person does to another unilaterally regardless of the other's knowledge, desire, and cooperation. People who comprehend each others' motives achieve "mutual appreciation".

3. Next comes patience.

Some faults will take more than a lifetime of work to eradicate. What rate of growth can be reasonably expected?

The word patience comes from the Latin word meaning to suffer. Patience begins in suffering, but it ends in service. Someone said that faith means knowing that the rules of the game are fair and that there are unexpected good surprises ahead.

Patience is an adjunct to "fraternal fellowship"

4. Then kindness.

We have to interact with people to show kindness. It is so easy to feel forgiving in the middle of a marvelous prayer session with the Father, but quite another matter to actually relate to a difficult mortal. Once I took a seminary course in evangelism. At the beginning of the term, we each selected a person to whom we wanted to present the gospel. One week, our assignment was very simple: love that person. All I will say is that it was a wonderful assignment.

5. Finally, we can be merciful in our relationships.

By the time we experience the flow of kindness, the normal inclination is to just forget about the original problem. It's so much easier to let bygones be bygones. But mercy summarizes the whole process, remembers all the steps, and in the light of that whole sequence, to extend mercy. That is not the mercy of blindness, but the mercy of the realization of reality--the evolving dominance of goodness. An action that expresses trust, such as giving the person some responsibility, can manifest the conclusion of the mercy process.

Whenever I have done my best, taking as much time as needed, with each step in sequence, I have found rich rewards.

Let me try to describe an experience of mercy which captures an essential aspect of this process--that it has phases bound together in the unity of a mature act of faith. It does not only involve spiritual awareness, in that it does not focus alone on realities that are divine, eternal, and spiritual. Rather it brings the mortal, temporal, and unspiritual into relationship with the enduring values; it is an act of what I call our philosophic consciousness.

Suppose I am thinking of a person who has wronged me. (For the purpose of this example, I am making the unworldly assumption that there is no question about determining the moral character of the action in question.) As an unspiritual being, my first awareness of this act may be the (psychologic) pain of injury. I may feel anger or sadness, contempt or outrage, intensely or mildly. In prayer, God helps me to regain my perspective on my brother, to see his shining wonderfulness. I dwell in the beauty of that revelation, and my love for him returns in greater strength and radiance than before. I have reached the stage of spirituality. (If we can experience that joy together and practice kindness, we have truly fulfilled the ideal of spiritual communion of step 4.)

But now I go one step further. I recall that ugly shadow of the evil that was done to me. It is jarring to juxtapose that shadow beside the beautiful, indwelt creation that has just been revealed to me more brightly. I think a bit more: there is a reason why that evil act occurred.

Some compulsion of material causes, some immaturity of creature will has manifested. This action is a part of the evolutionary growth of this brother, part of an early chapter of his success story. (I am also assuming for the purposes of this example that the person in question is a believer.) His error exposes part of the subterranean geography that needs adjustment, settling, harmonization. I can apply my prayer for my brother at that exposed spot. I can have confidence in the eventual triumph of my brother-- and the Supreme--with regard to this weakness.

By this time, my image of my brother has changed. About the nucleus of the indwelt and divinely bestowed personality, I see the slowly evolving self. I identify with the evolutionary process of progress. I think how glad I will be one day, when we are all so much more lovable, to have begun to know and love this brother in the mortal life. I give thanks for that privilege.

Note: now my awareness is complex, not simple. I see this person neither as a monster nor as an angel, but as growing around a nucleus of God-given perfection. To be able to balance-- creatively and progressively--the multiple phases of my brother's reality in my awareness of him exercises a new muscle. Mercy requires the exercise of this muscle. I call it a philosophic consciousness when fact and value are held together in proper balance.

In any human attempt at spiritual ministry the danger of self-righteous condescension is present; but that danger cannot be avoided by refusing to undertake the mercy process. On the contrary, the discoveries and growth to which the process leads are a powerful antdote for pride. It takes humility and faith and an appetite for spiritual adventure to receive mercy. On either side, we grow in partnership with God. Who of us has not needed, does not now need, and will not continue to need to receive mercy and to practice it? "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

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