Faces on Faith: State declares day of fasting, repentance
On this date in 1697, the people of Massachusetts observed a day of fasting and repentance for the Salem witch trials occurring in 1692. This public observance was “so that all of God’s people may offer up fervent supplications unto him, that all iniquity may be put away which has stirred God’s holy jealousy against this land; that he would show us what we know not, and help us, wherein we have done amiss, to do so no more.”
What is striking is the public confession of sin and the declaration of not tolerating similar actions in the future. Instead of ignoring the wrongs and hoping the offended parties would forgive and forget, all of the people took responsibility for the wrongs, which stemmed from vicious rumors unsupported by hard evidence. A mob frenzy resulted in the hanging of 19 suspected witches and the imprisonment of 150 others by order of a special court convened in Salem. The flames of suspicion and resentment spread throughout the surrounding counties, and hysteria triumphed over sound reason.
Despite the warnings of minister Cotton Mather and his father, Increase Mather, who was president of Harvard College at the time, failed to bring about sanity and proper proceedings. The elder Mather stated, “It would be better that ten suspected witches escape than for one innocent person be condemned.” The court later proclaimed the trials unlawful, and the leading justice, Samuel Sewall, publicly apologized for his role in the process.
Here are some suggested lessons.
– Be slow to speak, quick to listen.
– Don’t assume everything you hear is true.
– Continue to emphasize the dignity of human life.
– Understand that even though man was made in the image of God, that image has been distorted.
The prophet Isaiah makes two pertinent points in chapter 53. First, all of us naturally turn away from God and his standards. Second, God has a provision for our sinful actions. Isaiah 53:6 (NASB), “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Christ).” We have sinned, but God has placed the penalty of that sin on Christ. He died to give us life and freedom from the chains of sin. It is appropriate that we again turn to fasting and repentance.
The Rev. Dr. Stephen LeBar is the interim senior pastor at the Sanibel Community Church.