The Incredible Art Of Forgiveness

The Trial Begins Of Two Men Accused Of Murdering Stephen Lawrence

In the light of the recent chemical weapons attack upon the Syrian citizens of Douma, alongside March’s assault upon Sergei and Yulia Skripal when a Novichok nerve agent was used in Salisbury, one could be forgiven for thinking that the world has sunk to a new low and that the world had become a much darker and dangerous place. What has become of our moral values, common decency and respect for human life?

In recent weeks, we have seen the American, French and British authorities take military action against those who use chemical weapons, but there have also been two incredibly moving stories which perhaps given the circumstance have not been given the prominence that they rightly deserve. The first was the comedian Patrick Kielty’s BBC documentary entitled “My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me”, exploring the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement as it reached its 20th anniversary. Patrick’s story is poignant as his own father was murdered by paramilitary gunmen during ‘The Troubles’ – men who were subsequent released from prison as part of the agreement. Patrick’s view was nuanced, because although he admitted that he couldn’t forgive the gunmen, he accepted that their release was necessary if there was ever to be reconciliation. He was stunned by an interview with Richard Moore, who as a child had been totally blinded by a rubber bullet fired at him by a British soldier – and yet Richard had forgiven his assailant and had made great strides to find him in order to say so, resulting in a lasting friendship. How could Richard forgive the soldier so?

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[Patrick Keilty carrying his father’s coffin in 1988]

This was followed by an amazing interview given by Neville Lawrence, the father of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, whose story has regularly been in the headlines for 25 years. Two men had been convicted of Stephen’s death and yet it’s understood that five were involved. Neville revealed how he had forgiven them all for the murder of his son. Like Patrick, Neville’s story was incredibly hard and painful, and described as a ‘life sentence’ that would never go away, and yet he had forgiven his son’s murderers. How could this be possible?

It seems that both Neville and Richard had discovered an ancient Christian truth which is that forgiveness is not dependent upon the perpetrator saying sorry or even being met with. It’s an act of the heart and mind which allows the victim to find peace, ‘to let go’, and won’t allow any anger, hurt or pain they feel to fester and become a well of bitter malice within them, which probably does nothing to bring about reconciliation, and may not even be known by the perpetrator, but simply mars and cripples their own life henceforth. It comes from a deep-seated understanding that you are not going to hold a grudge or allow hurt to define you. Naturally, this isn’t easy – and shouldn’t be remotely confused with ‘letting other people get away with it’ or not wanting justice. Neville Lawrence wants justice as keenly as ever he did – it’s just that he won’t allow his anger and hurt to corrupt and corrode his heart and soul.

True forgiveness isn’t ‘a trick of the mind’; it isn’t secretly hoping for revenge or holding on to resentment. It has to be genuine and is therefore both a true art and an act of grace. Whether forgiveness is or isn’t asked for, it certainly isn’t deserved – it can only be given. It’s therefore a beautiful thing – a gift, which allows the victim to find peace, and can wonderfully, occasionally lead to repentance and reconciliation by all parties.

The Christian will see clear parallels between this and the Gospel story – how our sin naturally makes us all perpetrators, leading to the death of Jesus upon the cross where he graciously and lovingly takes upon himself the punishment for our sins (justice demands it) so that we might be reconciled and freely forgiven by God when we turn to him in sincerity, faith and repentance.

The stories of Richard, Neville (and perhaps even Patrick, who began to wonder if he had actually forgiven his father’s murderers after all) demonstrate that by God’s good grace and mercy there is still a lot of love and light in the world – and the world isn’t quite as dark as it might be.


“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” Luke 11.4


 

The Rohingyas – Where Are The Peacemakers?

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There have been many sad and sorry stories about trouble spots around the world – about people who have been caught up in the midst of war, civil unrest, barbarity and violence, but none are so poignant at the present time as that of the Rohingyas. The Rohingas Muslims are from the Rakhine state in Myanmar (formerly Burma). They are a ‘stateless’ people who have faced many years of persecution from the Buddhist majority and deep seated historic tensions have fuelled the latest catastrophe, sparked by the actions of Rohingya militants earlier in August. However, the scale of the military response from the Burmese Generals alongside Buddhist monks has been vast and unprecedented, driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, men, women and children, across the border and into squalid relief camps in Bangladesh.

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This terrible situation has become even more tragic as the Burmese leader is Aung San Suu Kyi – the 1st State Counsellor of Myanmar (akin to our Prime minister), the former ‘non-violent’ civil rights campaigner and leader of the National League for Democracy who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Quoted in 2007 as saying “I do not hold to non-violence for moral reasons, but for political and practical reasons”. This statement may ironically shed some light on her current, bewildering silence as the leader for Myanmar. Does she now believe that for political and practical reasons, violence against the Rohingyas is justified? Has she been persuaded by her Generals that violence is necessary? Is she prejudiced against the Rohingyas? Admittedly, it may appear that her actual power is very limited, but her ambivalence seems to perfectly illustrate the statement often attributed to Edmund Burke that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (or women) do nothing”. Which is such a shame, as for many years she was held up as the shining light and beacon for civil rights and democracy. It seems that this mantle has now passed to another recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize – young Malala Yousafzai, herself the victim of violence in Pakistan. “We can’t be silent right now,” she says. “The number of people who have been displaced is hundreds of thousands …. This should be a human rights issue. Governments should react to it. People are being displaced, they’re facing violence. We need to wake up and respond to it,” she continues, “… and I hope that Aung Sang Suu Kyi responds to it as well.”

The Christian will be aware that when Simon Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, tried to protect Jesus and prevent his arrest by the temple guards, Jesus warned him urgently to put his sword back into place “for all who live by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26.52) and had conversely famously promoted the cause of peace in his ‘sermon on the mount’; “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” he said “…blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” (Matthew 5.7,9). So, where are today’s peace makers? Well, they are all around us – in fact they are us! For like Malala Yousafzai, we should be encouraging our government to act swiftly to put pressure on the Myanmar government and not to stand silent. There may be very little that we can do personally, other than to pray for peace and support relief organisations and charities that we know are working in the area, but we can also be clear that these sorts of actions will never be seen by us as being part of a just, fair, civil and democratic society.


“… and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6.8