Wisdom of History

Civilizations and Governments: Mercy Is the Power that Preserves

Mercy always brings the ultimate triumph: healing Promised Lands so that we can bless all peoples—be best friends with all peoples—by establishing the pure worship of the LORD in spirit and in truth. Acts of mercy are the way to unify people—to reconcile them to each other and to God. David knew this when he spared Saul’s life. And Jesus knew this when he forgave us by dying for us. That is why I like to say that the most important verse in the Bible comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). Another way at getting at this truth is when I say that “Mercy is the power that preserves.”

As we approach the presidential election of 2024, more and more Christians are turning their thoughts to the Bible to guide their actions and decisions.

It always takes wisdom to discern what the Bible says about any topic. This is especially true when politics is afoot, twisting and turning the Bible for political advantages.

A good place to start is by teaching ourselves to hear, see and understand with wisdom (Isaiah 6:9-10). This includes treating the ideas of other people with respect, even though we disagree with each other.

This is the Wisdom of Mercy! This is the Wisdom of Freedom of Speech! This is the Wisdom of Freedom of Religion!

The following passage was first published in 2004 in my book Healing the Promised Land, at pages 49-55. I mention the date of 2004 to show I didn’t write this Wisdom specifically because of the rifts, fears, and wars of 2024.

In 2004, I wrote about the timeless Wisdom of Mercy that we still need in 2024 to heal our Promised Lands. How?

By healing rifts in churches.

By quashing fears and hatreds magnified by MAGAs and Progressives.

And by ending the wars in Ukraine and Gaza by establishing a just and lasting peace—a shalom—which smiles upon those lands.

Mercy always brings the ultimate triumph: healing the Promised Land so that we can bless all peoples—be best friends with all peoples—by establishing the pure worship of the LORD in spirit and in truth.

That is why I think David’s greatest victory was when he found the wisdom and discipline to show mercy to his implacable enemy, Saul.

Jesus’s greatest victory came the same way—showing mercy. As he hung in agony dying on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24).

Jesus rejected [King] Saul’s way of being the leader of God’s people.

Jesus did not use violence or lies to gain power.

Instead, Jesus led by serving.

To end the bickering among his disciples about who was the greatest, Jesus took the role of a household slave and washed their feet (John 13:1-17).

Nor does God the Father use violence or lies to gain power over our lives or over our world—a world where “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

GOD DEFEATS the power of SIN in our lives and in our world BY GIVING us LOVE and MERCY.Because “God demonstrate[d] his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “[W]hen we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8,10).

Such mercy is the glory of God. Such mercy is God’s amazing grace. Such mercy is God’s amazing victory over Sin.

Acts of mercy are the way to unify people—to reconcile them to each other and to God. David knew this when he spared Saul’s life. And Jesus knew this when he forgave us by dying for us.

That is why I like to say that the most important verse in the Bible comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7).

Another way at getting at this truth is when I say that “Mercy is the power that preserves.”

I get this phrase from the title of one of my favorite books—a fantasy series called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. One of the books is titled The Power that Preserves.

When I read that book, I always wonder, “What is the Power that Preserves?”

Perhaps it is the dogged determination of Thomas Covenant (the main character). Perhaps it is the power to laugh in the face of despair.

But I prefer to think it is the power of mercy that saves Thomas Covenant.

Only when he learns to accept forgiveness for his own failures and weaknesses can he find the determination to persevere against overwhelming odds.

Only when he finds the power of mercy can he find the power to laugh in the face of despair.

And, as I survey history, I find evidence that I am right: mercy is the power that creates and preserves groups of people—whether they be the Kingdom of God, or a nation.

Jesus founded the greatest kingdom ever known by showing the greatest mercy ever shown.

David secured his crown by extending mercy to Saul.

And Abraham Lincoln restored unity to the United States by extending mercy to those who fought against the Union.

To heal a nation still at war with itself, President Lincoln said:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Barely a month after saying these words of mercy, Abraham Lincoln was dead—murdered by an assassin’s bullet.

Abraham Lincoln became greater in death than he had been in life.

Like Jesus, he was a martyr who triumphed through the power of mercy.

Lincoln saved America by forgiving those he fought.

With the power of mercy, he ensured that government of the people, by the people, and for the people would not perish from the earth.

Another American martyr to the cause of forgiveness and reconciliation—to the cause of Jesus—was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He dreamed that someday we would judge people “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

And he knew that this dream could not come [true] by violence. It would only be delayed by violence. This dream could only come [true] by forgiving each other.

Mercy is the power that preserves his dream—the dream that someday all people will be best friends.

This dream lies at the heart of America—a New World called forth to heal the hatreds of the Old World. A New World where Humanity has been born again. A New World where we’re all good neighbors. A New World where we’re all best friends.

This dream lies at the heart of the legacy of the English-Speaking Peoples.

In his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill had difficulty coming up with a unifying theme to explain what bound the English-Speaking Peoples together—to explain what lay at the core of their greatness.

However, I think Churchill explained it best when he described the triumph of King Alfred the Great—the only king the English have ever called “the Great”. And King Alfred’s willingness to show mercy was his greatest triumph.

The times were desperate.

King Alfred led the kingdom of Wessex, covering much of present-day England. The pagan Vikings had overrun the rest of England.

If the Vikings had destroyed King Alfred and his kingdom, “all England would have sunk into heathen anarchy.” But as long as King Alfred and his Saxons fought on, “the hope still burned for a civilised Christian existence in this island.”

Alfred’s most desperate moment came in 878:

It was Twelfth Night, and the Saxons, who in these days of torment refreshed and fortified themselves by celebrating the feasts of the Church, were off their guard, engaged in pious exercises, or perhaps even drunk. Down swept the ravaging foe. The whole army of Wessex, sole guarantee of England south of the Thames, was dashed into confusion. Many were killed. The most part stole away to their houses. Only a handful of officers and personal attendants hid themselves with Alfred in the marshes and forests of Somerset and the Isle of Athelney which rose from the quags. This was the darkest hour of Alfred’s fortunes . . . . He lived as Robin Hood did in Sherwood Forest long afterwards.

We should also note that Alfred lived like David when he was fleeing Saul for his life.

At last, Alfred was able to raise another army. According to an ancient chronicler, when the army “saw the King they received him like one risen from the dead, after so great tribulations, and they were filled with great joy.”

With his army in this fighting mood, “Alfred advanced to Ethandun, now Edington, and on the bare downs was fought the largest and culminating battle of Alfred’s wars. All was staked. All hung in the scales of fate.”

After hours of fighting with sword and axe, the Vikings “fled from the cruel and clanging field.” Alfred trapped the defeated Vikings in their camp. According to the ancient historian, “the heathen, terrified by hunger, cold, and fear, and at the last full of despair, begged for peace.”

The Vikings “offered to give . . . as many hostages as Alfred should care to pick and to depart forthwith. But Alfred had had longer ends in view.”

Like King David and Abraham Lincoln, King Alfred extended mercy to his beaten foe. “Alfred meant to make a lasting peace with Guthrum[, the defeated Viking king]. He had him and his army in his power. He could have starved them into surrender and slaughtered them to a man. He wished instead to divide the land with them, and that the two races, in spite of fearful injuries given and received, should dwell together in amity.”

Therefore, Alfred “stood godfather to Guthrum; he raised him from the [baptismal] font; he entertained him for twelve days; he presented him and his warriors with costly gifts; he called him his son.”

Such was Alfred’s greatest triumph.

Like that other great warrior and king, David, this great triumph was won—not with the sword—but with wisdom. The wisdom that forgives. The wisdom that taps into the power of mercy. The Power that Preserves. The Power that Heals.

As Churchill wrote in immortal prose that describes David as well as it describes Alfred:

This sublime power to rise above the whole force of circumstances, to remain unbiased by the extremes of victory or defeat, to persevere in the teeth of disaster, to greet returning fortune with a cool eye, to have faith in men after repeated betrayals, raises Alfred far above the turmoil of barbaric wars to his pinnacle of deathless glory. . . . .

We discern across the centuries a commanding and versatile intelligence, wielding with equal force the sword of war and of justice; using in defense arms and policy; cherishing religion, learning, and art in the midst of adversity and danger, welding together a nation, and seeking always across the feuds and hatred’s of the age a peace which would smile upon the land.

Surely here is the core of what has led to the triumph of the English-Speaking Peoples as they have fought again and again to defeat tyranny in all its guises—foreign and domestic.

It was the genius that guided Abraham Lincoln as he bound up the wounds of a nation torn asunder by a bloody civil war.

And this was the wisdom that enabled America to triumph in the Twentieth Century as it fought to end all War and to make the world safe for Democracy.

Because, after victory over the Nazi tyranny in the Second World War, America was wise enough to extend mercy to the defeated nations of Germany and Japan, creating peaceful democracies instead of imperialistic tyrannies.

And because, after victory over the Communist tyranny in the Cold War, America wisely seeks—across the feuds and hatreds of this age—a Peace that will smile upon Humanity.

Yet I am amazed—as I survey 2,000 years of Church history—that such wisdom and mercy seem to be totally lacking from the history of how Christians treated each other. Instead of being best friends, Christians have been implacable foes.

Again and again, Christians argue about who will have how much power, who will wield the Church’s wealth, who was right, and who was wrong. But I am hard-pressed to think of a single instance in 2,000 years where any Christian extended mercy to any other Christian with whom they disagreed.

There were no “Davids” who spared the life of an implacable, deceitful enemy.

No “Alfreds” who saved the heathen “Vikings” instead of destroying them.

No “Lincolns” who forgave rebellion with charity for all and malice for none.

No “Kings” who dreamed of being best friends despite being the victims of wrongs and injustices.

This must change.

We must learn to forgive. We must triumph through the power of mercy.

We must show the world that we are Christians by our love—by our love—so they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We must learn to be best friends.

We must heal the Promised Land so that we can bless all peoples by establishing the pure worship of the LORD in Spirit and in truth.


This passage makes frequent use of the words “triumph” and “tragedy” because the working title of Healing the Promised Land had been Triumphs and Tragedies. Furthermore, the final volume of Churchill’s World War II memoirs was Triumph and Tragedy.

When reading this glowing account of the motives and actions of the English-Speaking Peoples, keep in mind that there are dark instances of evil motives and actions by the English-Speaking Peoples. All people and institutions (including “the English-Speaking Peoples” and “the United States”) have gone astray like sheep, needing mercy and redemption by the LORD through the Work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. (Isaiah 53:6; Colossians 1:15,19-20).

After decades of trying to come up with a better term than “English-Speaking Peoples”, I realized that the term “America” is best, as long as we make clear that this ideal “America” was first discovered by the hearts of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and that this ideal “America” includes ALL people and ALL nations (including enemies of the United States) who want to:

—bless ALL people; (Genesis 12:3; Abraham);

—challenge ALL pharaohs to set ALL people free (Exodus 5:1; Moses); and

—heal ALL hurting people (Luke 10:25-37; Jesus).

Furthermore, in this ideal America, ALL means ALL! (Isaiah 2:2-4; Revelation 7:9-17; Revelation 21:1-4).


When have you failed because you did not tap into the Power of Mercy to Preserve your family, your church, your business, your politics, your nation, and your civilization?

When have you succeeded because you tapped into the Power of Mercy to Preserve your family, your church, your business, your politics, your nation, and your civilization?

When have you realized that forgiving someone does not automatically mean they are fit to do something? See my blog “Confusing Being-Fit with Being-Forgiven”. For example, we should not permit a pastor who sexually abused women or children to be in such a position of trust in the future where they can again sexually abuse women or children, even if we forgive the pastor. Nor should we re-elect a President who acted in merciless, cruel, corrupt, and dictatorial ways in his prior term as President, even if we forgive the President.


For related thoughts, please read my blogs “Building Houses on Rock: Mission Impossible?”; “Building Houses on Rock: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”; “Building Houses on Rock: Mercy and Forgiveness”; and “Building Houses on Sand: Specks and Planks”.

For a historical dramatization of the Age of Alfred the Great, you may enjoy the series the “The Last Kingdom” on Netflix.