by Rev. Fr. Anthony Mario Ozele
In his book “What’s so Amazing About Grace,” Philip Yancey tells a story about a man and wife who one night had an argument about how supper was cooked, it was so heated that night they slept in separate rooms. Neither has approached the other to say I’m sorry or to offer forgiveness, and they have remained in separate rooms years after the argument, each night they go to bed hoping that the other will approach them with an apology or forgiveness, but neither goes to the other. God’s forgiveness does not wait for repentance, it initiates and calls out repentance by offering forgiveness.
This is why some people have great difficulty forgiving people. Either they hate confrontation and don’t want to confront someone with their sin, so instead they stew in their unforgiveness and hate not wanting to do the hard work of forgiveness.
Let us not think that unless those who have injured us confess their wrongs, we are justified in withholding from them our forgiveness. We should not accumulate our grievances, holding them to our hearts until the one we think guilty has humbled his heart by repentance and confession. This is his part no doubt, and the thing he must do in order to clear his soul from sin he has committed. But we are to have a spirit of pity, of compassion toward those who have trespassed against us, whether or not they confess their faults. If they fail to repent and make confession, their sins will stand registered in the books above to confront them in the Day of Judgment; but if they say, “I repent,” then our duty is plain; we are freely to forgive from the heart their trespasses against us as we have the hope of forgiveness by our heavenly father. Saint Augustine said: “If you are suffering the injustice of a bad man, forgive Him least there be two bad men.” JESUS CONNECTS PRAYER AND FORGIVENESS, Mark 11:24-26.
How often do we feel that we have been dealt with unjustly, that things have been said concerning us that were untrue, and that we have been set in a false light before others? When this happens, we need to keep strict guard over our spirit and our words. Don’t rehearse and nurse the hurts. Stop reliving the event again and again in your mind.
The Bible tells us the story of Joseph whose ten brothers first planned to kill him, and then because they lacked the fortitude to do that they sold him as a slave to traders who sold him to an Egyptian. Joseph went from slavery to prison, and then to a place in Pharaoh’s court, and finally to being in charge of all Egypt second only to Pharaoh himself. When famine drives his brothers to Egypt Joseph has his enemies in the palm of his hand. He plays with them for awhile, to see if they are still evil, but they are really more pathetic than evil, and just before he reveals himself to them to forgive them, we are told that he wept so loudly that the whole palace heard it. We are not told why he wept, but I imagine it was because what he was about to do was hard, and painful. By society’s standards he had the right and the power to kill them, but instead he embraces them, but it is not easy, it is hard.
It is not easy to forgive, but God in his grace gives us the power to do it. We are able to forgive because God is in charge. Joseph says to his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”(Genesis 50:20) We are also able to forgive because God takes even the things that were meant to hurt us, and he uses them for good if we let him. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Forgiveness is very, very hard for humans to do on their own. There are reasons not to forgive.
There is a lot of mental and emotional work involved in forgiving someone. If you have ever tried to forgive someone a very real offense, you know what I am talking about. There is a serious price to pay when the choice is made to forgive a person. To forgive means to say, “What you have said or done has truly and deeply hurt me, yet though I feel the pain of what you have done, I choose to release you of penalty. You have earned and you deserve my anger but instead I release you from your guilt”. That is the problem of forgiveness, and that is why many do not want to go there. The cost is too high. When the first missionaries came to Alberta, Canada, they were savagely opposed by a young chief of the Cree Indians named Maskepetoon. But he responded to the gospel and accepted Christ. Shortly afterward, a member of the Blackfoot tribe killed his father. Maskepetoon rode into the village where the murderer lived and demanded that he be brought before him. Confronting the guilty man, he said, “You have killed my father, so now you must be my father. You shall ride my best horse and wear my best clothes. Tell your people that this is the way Maskepetoon takes revenge.” In utter amazement and remorse his enemy exclaimed, “My son, now you have killed me!” He meant, of course, that the hate in his own heart had been completely erased by the forgiveness and kindness of the Indian chief. His father’s murderer continued “Never in the history of my people has such a thing as this been known. My people and all men will say ‘The young Chief is brave and strong and good. He stands alone.’”
· Forgiveness does not make you weak, it makes the offender person weak
· Forgiveness makes the offender look aggressive
· Forgiveness shames the offender. He has to live with the guilt for life
· Forgiveness opens the offender to critique from friends and neighbors
· Forgiveness gives you a good image before others and glorifies God
· Forgiveness builds community: I believe forgiveness is essential to the building of a community of faith
Forgiveness is costly. Forgiveness is vital. But there is great power in forgiveness. It is a radical, transforming power, it is the power of altering, healing, fixing reality – the reality of relationships.
In the beautiful hills of Pennsylvania, a devout group of Christian people live a simple life without automobiles, electricity, or modern machinery. They work hard and live quiet, peaceful lives separate from the world. Most of their food comes from their own farms. The women sew and knit and weave their clothing, which is modest and plain. They are known as the Amish people.
Charles Carl Roberts IV, a 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. October 2, 2006 he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child and some unsubstantiated memories. He stormed into the Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and tied up the 10 girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life. This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish but no anger. There was hurt but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, “We will forgive you.” Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis. One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, “We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, [and] a language of service. And, yes, a language of forgiveness.” It was an amazing outpouring of their complete faith in the Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” The family of the milkman who killed the five girls released the following statement to the public: “To our Amish friends, neighbors, and local community:
“Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you. “Please know that our hearts have been broken by all that has happened. We are filled with sorrow for all of our Amish neighbors whom we have loved and continue to love. We know that there are many hard days ahead for all the families who lost loved ones, and so we will continue to put our hope and trust in the God of all comfort, as we all seek to rebuild our lives.”
How could the whole Amish group manifest such an expression of forgiveness? It was because of their faith in God and trust in His word, which is part of their inner beings. They see themselves as Disciples of Christ and want to follow His example. Hearing of this tragedy, many people sent money to the Amish to pay for the health care of the five surviving girls and for the burial expenses of the five who were killed. As a further demonstration of their discipleship, the Amish decided to share some of the money with the widow of the milkman and her three children because they too were victims of this terrible tragedy.