Friday, 28 April 2017
Father Forgive Them
One of defining moments of Christianity is when Jesus is hanging on the Cross and in his death-throws he makes a plea to his Heavenly Father to forgive those who are executing him in this most terrible way, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. That is the where the rubber hits the road for Christians.
The challenge for us to forgive others has not been treated seriously enough by organized religion or society. You can see this in the way children are told to, “say your sorry” by their parents even though they do not feel sorry in the least. The church says that we should forgive and so we should. But how does forgiveness actually happen? We can decide we will forgive because after all it is the Christian thing to do. So, we can tell the offending parry (perhaps through gritted teeth), “I forgive you”. You might actually believe that you have forgiven the other person. You may actually convince your self that, at that moment in any case, you do believe you have forgiven them. However, in my experience and understanding, true forgiveness does not come that easily.
Forgiveness is a process which can and probably will take many years and have many set backs. You will find that you have made a conscious decision to forgive but then the memory of the experience which requires forgiveness and the associated emotions such as anger and fear and desire for justice and even vengeance will overwhelm you. When these things occur, it is a sign that true forgiveness has not occurred.
There was an excellent article in the Glove and Mail, appropriately on Saturday of Easter weekend, that addresses many of the issues and misconceptions around forgiveness. The article, entitled A Radical Grief, explores the journey of two people whose daughter had been murdered. They made a conscious decision to forgive the murderer even though they did not know the person’s identity for many years. They made this decision, in part, because, shortly after the crime became public knowledge, they were visited by someone who had experience a similar tragedy. He warned them that his life had been destroyed because he was not able to forgive the person who had murdered his child.
The article is valuable because it illustrates a number of lessons that we need to learn. The first one for me is not directly about forgiveness but it is related. The article is an illustration about an important way of understanding sin. Sin is those things which ‘chain us to the past’. I do not remember the source of this idea. However, it is an important one for me. If we allow events and circumstances in our lives to prevent us from living the lives God intends us to lead we are in a sinful state. If my anger and hatred of someone consumes me fully or even partially we can not be open to receiving God’s love and share that love with the world. We are indeed chained to the past. There are many other ways of understanding sin but this is an important one.
Another lesson from this article is that it is not necessary for someone to ask for forgiveness to be give forgiven. In the article the parents did not even know who the murderer of their daughter was. However, they made a conscious decision to forgive them. There is a common belief someone should not be forgiven useless they repent of their actions and seek forgiveness. This can help the process. However, it is not necessary. The act of Forgiveness is as much for the salvation of the person who forgives as it is for the one forgiven.
Finally, forgiveness is a journey which can take a long time. It doesn’t come easily and quickly in many cases. They couple in the article explained the difficulty of forgiving the perpetrator. At times over the years they were overwhelmed with anger and the desire for vengeance. However, they continued on their journey of and to forgiveness.
Their case was particularly poignant. For many years they did not know the identity of the perpetrator. When the identity was discovered through DNA evidence, they had the trial of sitting through the trial of the accused. He was found guilty. However, a new trial was ordered on appeal and at this time the outcome of the second trial is unclear. The mother is quoted in the article, “I want to live,” she said. “If we had waited for justice 32 years ago, can you imagine where we’d be? We would have just put our whole lives on the shelf.”
Love is the only thing that can defeat hate. Blessings on you journey.