The Statesman Displaying Mercy

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One of the most powerful concepts in the life of the statesman is mercy. This begins with receiving mercy. Understanding mercy entails understanding that we have forgiveness available to us that we do not automatically deserve. The most important mercy we will ever receive is from the God of the Universe when we recognize that we have offended the perfectly holy King of the Universe, that we have offended Him and deserve judgment, yet that He has offered us forgiveness through dependence upon Jesus. Once we have received this mercy, we become overwhelmed with the significance of this mercy. We are reminded:

How joyful are those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered! (Romans 4:7)

Based upon that recognition, we realize that we are called upon to exercise mercy among our fellow humans. Our Lord has taught us that we are to:

Forgive one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. (Colossians 3:13-14).

This presents a special challenge to the statesman, whom God defined through King David:

The one who rules the people with justice, who rules in the fear of God (2 Samuel 23:3).

And yet, King David also recognized:

How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! (Psalm 32:1)

The recognition of one’s own receiving mercy from God leads the Statesman to recognize that he is operating among an imperfect humanity also in need of mercy. This causes the Statesman to be sensitive to exercising mercy to others. How does this work out in the life of a Statesman? Let me give two practical examples of displaying mercy.

The late President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia provides us with an example of statesmanlike behavior in the way he treated his fiercest critic. Michael Sata was continually critical of the President. His attacks on President were at times very personal. And yet, Sata saw Mwanawasa differently after he personally suffered a serious heart attack. The President intervened to have Sata airlifted to South Africa for treatment, all at Government expense. Sata came to recognize that his differences with Mwanawasa were not personal but simply policy differences. I consider Mwanawasa’s act of mercy to be statesmanlike because of his work to preserve a dissenting voice. As a result of this action, they reconciled and Sata came to appreciate the President, not necessarily as a policy-maker but as a human. It is likely that Mwanawasa’s action saved the life of Sata, who went on to become President himself later.

Upon Sudan’s independence in 1956, the southern Sudanese, with their ethnic and religious differences from the majority Sudanese, aspired to form an independent nation of their own. Joseph Lagu displayed statesmanlike behaviour while leading an independence movement. One particularly difficult time was in 1971 after government troops had attacked a rebel village in the south, including burning down a church and killing a number of worshippers. Days later, while the pain was still strong, a plane carrying northern Sudanese civilians crashed into rebel-held territory, with 29 survivors. Although the temptation was for revenge, General Lagu ordered the survivors released. As related by General Lagu, his decision resulted from considering the question “What would Christ have me to do?” While reflecting on this question, “his first thought was of Christ feeding the 5,000 when they were in need. His second was of the scriptural admonition concerning the number of times that one should forgive one’s enemy — 70 times seven. His last thought was of some advice a chaplain had given him when he was a young man: ‘If I ever had a thought in the cool hours of the morning, I should act on it and not dilute it by consulting others. God was talking to me, not them.’” General Lagu’s decision contributed to the Addis Ababa settlement of 1972, one of several steps that eventually led to the independence of South Sudan in 2005. (These two examples are taken from Challenge to Govern as Statesmen, pp. 49-50, which can be downloaded at

We are called upon to exercise mercy to others in the way mercy has been extended to us. It does not need to interfere with our responsibility to administer justice. When a leader exercises mercy to others, as these two leaders demonstrated, it can have powerful consequences. And as we study their actions, we cannot help but admire both of them, and learn from them.


What are ways I have received mercy?
What are practical ways I can show mercy in the midst of my responsibility to administer justice?