Most religions recognize that, due to humanity's fallen and degraded condition, it is difficult if not impossible for an individual to attain the goal and purpose of life unaided. In fact, help is available; God's grace is sufficient support for people on the journey of faith. The scriptures often emphasize the priority of divine grace; it is present even before a person responds, eliciting faith in those who otherwise would have no clue of how to escape their mean lot.
First we have selected passages which describe God as the savior of benighted and sinful people. Grace is entirely God's initiative, given to people regardless of their attitude or merit. Furthermore, God's grace far overshadows the merit gained by good works; indeed, nothing can come of a person's good works or austerities endured for the purpose of salvation, in the absence of divine grace. God's grace is also described as sufficient, regardless of the person's burden or strength to bear it.
The section ends with the two parables of the Prodigal Son, one from the New Testament and one from the Lotus Sutra. The teachings of these two stories differ in important respects: the Christian version cautions against self-righteousness on the part of the faithful believer as represented by the prodigal's brother, while the Buddhist version teaches the Buddha's skill in means through the devices of the rich father. Yet the theme of divine compassion for errant humanity shines through both.
Through Thy power, O Lord, Make life renovated, real at Thy will.
1. Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Yasna 34.15
God is the best to take care of man, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!
2. Islam. Qur'an 12.64
Lord! You are the uninvoked savior, motiveless compassionate being, a well-wisher even when unprayed, a friend even when unrelated.
3. Jainism. Vitaragastava 13.1
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
4. Christianity. Bible, John 3.16
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
5. Christianity. Bible, Romans 3.23-25
God the Rescuer,
God the Savior,
Almighty, whom we joyfully adore,
Invoked by all men,
May he, the bounteous, grant us his blessings!
6. Hinduism. Rig Veda 7.100.4
Always created beings He cherishes; The Creator looks to the weal of all. Lord! invaluable are Thy blessings; Without extent is His bounty.
7. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Kirtan Sohila, M.1, p. 12
And the Almighty said to Moses, "I am One and Eternal, so you, too, shall be united as one and you will be an eternal people." He further said, "Thus shall you say to the Children of Israel, 'The Eternal, Who is determined to remove cruelty from all human existence, has sent me to you.'"
8. Judaism. Torah Yesharah, Exodus 3.14
I am the Tathagata,
The Most Honored among men;
I appear in the world
Like unto this great cloud,
To pour enrichment on all
Parched living beings,
To free them from their misery
To attain the joy of peace,
Joy of the present world,
And joy of Nirvana.
9. Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 5
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
10. Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Psalm 23
If we are faithless, he remains faithful--for he cannot deny himself.
11. Christianity. Bible, 2 Timothy 2.13
God is always impartial and compassionate. At least three times He tries to lead even the most wicked men [to salvation] by way of their minds.
12. Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon
We who live in the world, still attached to karmas, can overcome the world by thy grace alone.
13. Hinduism. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.2
Qur'an 12.64: Cf. Qur'an 39.53, p. 519. Vitaragastava 13.1: Cf. Tao Te Ching 62, p. 143. Romans 3.23-25: See Ephesians 2.8-9, p. 756. Rig Veda 7.100.4: Cf. Black Yajur Veda 6.6, p. 139, invoking the grace of God as Shiva; also Bhagavad Gita 18.58, p. 557. Torah Yesharah: This is a traditional interpretive translation of Torah by Obadiah Sforno (1475-1550). It renders the way many Jews have traditionally understood the meaning of the Tetra- grammaton. Compare the modern translation of Exodus 3.13-15, p. 120. Cf. 1 Timothy 2.3-4, p. 514. Lotus Sutra 5: Buddhism is basically a religion of salvation or liberation, as derived from the Four Noble Truths, which both diagnose mankind's ills and explain the process of liberation from them. This passage is from the Parable of the Rain Cloud, pp. 142f; cf. Lotus Sutra 7, p. 637; Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra 8.18, p. 639; Tannisho of Shinran, p. 757f. Psalm 23: Cf. Psalm 145.8-9, p. 137; John 10.11-16, p. 639, on Jesus the Good Shepherd. 2 Timothy 2.13: Cf. Canticles Rabbah 2.5, p. 764.
All need grace, for even Abraham, for whose sake grace came plenteously into the world, himself needed grace.
14. Judaism. Midrash, Genesis Rabbah 60.2
God promises you His forgiveness and bounties; and God cares for all and He knows all things. He grants wisdom to whom He pleases, and he to whom wisdom is granted receives indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding.
15. Islam. Qur'an 2.268-69
The Self is not to be obtained by instruction, Nor by intellect, nor by much learning. He is to be obtained only by the one whom He chooses. To such a one the Self reveals His own person.
16. Hinduism. Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.3; Katha Upanishad 1.2.23
Abu Huraira reported God's Messenger as saying, "There is none whose deeds alone would entitle him to get into Paradise." Someone said, "God's Messenger, not even you?" He replied, "Not even I, but that my Lord wraps me in mercy."
17. Islam. Hadith of Muslim
By assuming numerous garbs [of ascetics], learning, induced meditation, or stubborn practices,
Has none attained Him.
Says Nanak, By His grace alone does one attain to sainthood and enlightenment.
18. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Gauri Bavan Akkhari, M.5, p. 251
Now, if it had not been been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead.
19. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Book of Mormon, Alma 12.25
Genesis Rabbah 60.2: Cf. Kiddushin 30b, p. 390. Mention of Abraham recalls Paul's argument for faith as superior to works in Galatians 3.1-9, p. 756. Qur'an 2.268-69: Cf. Qur'an 18.23-24, p. 913; 42:19, p. 136; 49.7, p. 752. Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.3: For a different interpretation of this ambiguous text, see p. 685. Hadith of Muslim: Cf. Qur'an 12.53, p. 383; Hadith of Muslim, p. 443; Nahjul Balagha, Khutba 57, p. 778. Gauri Bavan Akkhari, M.5: Cf. Slok, M.9, p. 390; Gauri Purabi, Ravi Das, p. 401; Isaiah 64.4, p. 411. Book of Mormon, Alma 12.25: The 'plan of redemption' refers to the inevitable Last Judgment and eschatological redemption of the righteous. The ultimate justice of God is founded upon his Word, which was declared before the creation of the world. Cf. 2 Peter 3.3-10, p. 1099; Proverbs 8.22-31, p. 151; John 1.1-4, p. 150.
God desires to lighten things for you, for man was created a weakling.
Islam. Qur'an 4.27-28
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
21. Christianity. Bible, 1 Corinthians 10.13
God charges no soul save to its capacity;
standing to its account is what it has earned,
and against its account what it has deserved.
Our Lord! Take us not to task if we forget, or make mistake.
Our Lord! Charge us not with a load as that which You laid upon those before us.
Our Lord! Burden us not beyond what we have the strength to bear.
Pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us.
22. Islam. Qur'an 2.286
And Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.' And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.
"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of his servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"
23. Christianity. Bible, Luke 15.11-32: Parable of the Prodigal Son
It is like a youth who, on attaining manhood, leaves his father and runs away. For long he dwells in some other country, ten, or twenty, or fifty years. The older he grows, the more needy he becomes. Roaming about in all directions to seek clothing and food, he gradually wanders along till he unexpectedly approaches his native country. From the first the father searched for his son but in vain, and meanwhile has settled in a certain city. His home becomes very rich; his goods and treasures are incalculable....
At this time, the poor son, wandering through village after village, and passing through countries and cities, at last reaches the city where his father has settled. Always has the father been thinking of his son, yet, though he has been parted from him over fifty years, he has never spoken of the matter to any one, only pondering over it within himself and cherishing regret in his heart, as he reflects, "Old and worn, I own much wealth--gold, silver, and jewels, granaries and treasuries overflowing; but I have no son. Some day my end will come and my wealth will be scattered and lost, for there is no one to whom I can leave it... If I could only get back my son and commit my wealth to him, how contented and happy should I be, with never a further anxiety!"
Meanwhile the poor son, hired for wages here and there, unexpectedly arrives at his father's house. Standing by the gate, he sees from afar his father seated on a lion-couch, his feet on a jeweled footstool, revered and surrounded by Brahmans, warriors, and citizens, and with strings of pearls, worth thousands and myriads, adorning his body; attendants and young slaves with white chowries wait upon him right and left... The poor son, seeing his father possessed of such great power, was seized with fear, regretting that he had come to this place, and secretly reflects thus, "This must be a king, or someone of royal rank; it is no place for me to obtain anything for hire of my labor. I had better go to some poor hamlet, where there is a place for letting out my labor, and food and clothing are easier to get. If I tarry here long, I may suffer oppression and forced service." Reflecting thus, he hastens away.
Meanwhile the rich elder on his lion-seat has recognized his son at first sight, and with great joy in his heart has also reflected, "Now I have some one to whom I may bequeath my treasuries of wealth. Always I have been thinking of this my son, with no means of seeing him; but suddenly he himself has come and my longing is satisfied. Though worn with years, I yearn for him as of old."
Instantly he dispatches his attendants to pursue him quickly and fetch him back. Thereupon the messengers hasten forth to seize him. The poor son, surprised and scared, loudly cries his complaint, "I have committed no offense against you; why should I be arrested?" The messengers all the more hasten to lay hold of him and compel him to go back. Thereupon the poor son, thinking within himself that though he is innocent yet he will be imprisoned, and that now he will surely die, is all the more terrified, faints away and falls prostrate on the ground. The father, seeing this from afar, sends word to the messengers, "I have no need for this man. Do not bring him by force. Sprinkle cold water on his face to restore him to consciousness and do not speak to him any further." Wherefore? The father, knowing that his son's disposition is inferior, knowing that his own lordly position has caused distress to his son, yet convinced that he is his son, tactfully does not say to others, "This is my son."
A messenger says to the son, "I now set you free; go wherever you will." The poor son is delighted, thus obtaining the unexpected. He rises from the ground and goes to a poor hamlet in search of food and clothing. Then the elder, desiring to attract his son, sets up a device. Secretly he sends two men, doleful and shabby in appearance, saying, 'You go and visit that place and gently say to the poor man, "There is a place for you to work here... we will hire you for scavenging, and we both also will work along with you."' Then the two messengers go in search of the poor son and, having found him, place before him the above proposal. Thereupon the poor son, having received his wages beforehand, joins with them in removing a refuse heap.
His father, beholding the son, is struck with compassion for, and wonder at, him. Another day he sees at a distance, through a window, his son's figure, gaunt, lean, and doleful, filthy and unclean with dirt and dust; thereupon he takes off his strings of jewels, his soft attire, and puts on a coarse, torn and dirty garment, smears his body with dust, takes a basket in his right hand, and with an appearance fear-inspiring says to the laborers, "Get on with your work, don't be lazy." By such a device he gets near to his son, to whom he afterwards says, "Ay, my man, you stay and work here, do not go again elsewhere; I will increase your wages; give whatever you need, bowls, utensils, rice, wheat-flour, salt, vinegar, and so on; have no hesitation; besides there is an old and worn-out servant whom you shall be given if you need him. Be at ease in your mind; I am, as it were, your father; do not be worried again. Wherefore? I am old and advanced in years, but you are young and vigorous; all the time you have been working, you have never been deceit- ful, lazy, angry or grumbling; I have never seen you, like the other laborers, with such vices as these. From this time forth you shall be as my own begot- ten son."
Thereupon the elder gives him a new name and calls him a son. Then the poor son, though he rejoices at this happening, still thinks of himself as a humble hireling. For this reason, during twenty years he continues to be employed in scavenging. After this period, there grows mutual confidence between them, and he goes in and out and at his ease, though his abode is still in a small hut.
Then the elder becomes ill and, knowing that he will die before long, says to the poor son, "Now I possess abundance of gold, silver, and precious things, and my granaries and treasuries are full to overflowing. The quanti- ties of these things, and the amounts which should be received and given, I want you to understand in detail. Such is my mind, and you must agree to this my wish. Wherefore? Because now I and you are of the same mind. Be increasingly careful so that there be no waste."
The poor man accepts his instruction and commands, and becomes acquainted with all the goods... but has no idea of expecting to inherit as much as a meal, while his abode is still the original place and he is yet unable to abandon his sense of inferiority.
After a short time has again passed, the father notices that his son's ideas have gradually been enlarged, his aspirations developed, and that he despises his previous state of mind. On seeing that his own end is approach- ing, he commands his son to come, and gathers together his relatives, and the kings, ministers, warriors, and citizens. When they are all assembled, he addresses them saying, "Now, gentlemen, this is my son, begotten by me. It is over fifty years since, from a certain city, he left me and ran away to endure loneliness and misery. His former name was so-and-so and my name was so-and-so. At that time in that city I sought him sorrowfully. Suddenly in this place I met and regained him. This is really my son and I am really his father. Now all the wealth which I possess belongs entirely to my son, and all my previous disbursements and receipts are known by this son."
When the poor son heard these words of his father, great was his joy at such unexpected news, and thus he thought, "Without any mind for, or effort on my part, these treasures now come of themselves to me."
World-honored One! The very rich elder is the Tathagata, and we are all as the Buddha's sons. The Buddha has always declared that we are his sons. But because of the three sufferings, in the midst of births-and-deaths we have borne all kinds of torments, being deluded and ignorant and enjoying our attachment to trifles. Today the World-honored One has caused us to ponder over and remove the dirt of all diverting discussions of inferior things. In these we have hitherto been diligent to make progress and have got, as it were, a day's pay for our effort to reach Nirvana. Obtaining this, we greatly rejoiced and were contented, saying to ourselves, "For our diligence and progress in the Buddha-law what we have received is ample"... The Buddha, knowing that our minds delighted in inferior things, by his tactfulness taught according to our capacity, but still we did not perceive that we are really Buddha's sons... Therefore we say that though we had no mind to hope or expect it, yet now the Great Treasure of the King of the Law has of itself come to us, and such things that Buddha-sons should obtain, we have all obtained.
24. Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 4: Parable of the Prodigal Son
1 Corinthians 10.13 and Qur'an 2.286: Cf. Qur'an 65.7, p. 686; Jeremiah 10.23-24, p. 571; Matthew 11.28-30, p. 645; Romans 8.26-27, p. 648; Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 7.22-24, p. 572. Luke 15.11-12: Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son speaks not only of God's grace and forgiveness (represented by the father), but also of the ethic that righteousness (represented by the elder brother) be accompanied by forgiveness and compassion for sinners (the younger brother). On the elder brother's attitude, compare Jonah, pp. 904f. and note. Lotus Sutra 4: In the Buddhist Parable of the Prodigal Son, the rich elder represents the Buddha and the son is the ordinary person. The Buddha cannot show his grace directly, so in compassion he resorts to an expedient in order to reach his low-minded son. Cf. the Parable of the Good Physician, Lotus Sutra 16, pp. 1023f.; also 1 Corinthians 9.19-22, p. 1021.