Spats between Donkey and Shrek, princes Harry and William, Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears, Kardashian sisters; racial conflict in South Africa, ethnic cleansing in Rwanda, conflicts and wars across the world; family and friendship breakdowns, bullying in schools, streets, and workplaces, etc. The World echoes with pained cries and calls for revenge and justice.
‘The Forgiveness Project’ involves people of faith and no faith and recognises the crucial role of forgiveness in learning to live well. It asks more questions than answers given, but the truth held dear is that the ability to forgive someone who has hurt you is critical to one being able to process pain, experience healing and move on healthier and stronger.
Some questions the project asks are: Who deserves to be forgiven? How can large scale injustices be forgiven? Where does justice fit in? How can you forgive without an apology? Why do people forgive? How can telling your story be useful? Why might forgiveness be problematic? Curiosity, moving from “Why me?” to “Why them?” What is ‘empathy’? How can you forgive yourself? What if we can forgive but not forget? Does ‘Revenge’ satisfy?
‘Stories of Forgiveness’ was the theme of our recent chaplaincy team visit to Greenwood Academy. Anthony Walker was viciously attacked in a racially motivated murder. ‘Anthony’, a BBC drama, imagines Anthony living beyond the age of 16 when his life was cruelly cut short. Dominique, his sister, spoke of her wrestle with forgiveness, “Seventy times seven we must forgive, that’s what we were taught, that’s what the Bible said, that’s what we have to do. It’s an everyday thing. It is hard, it is so hard, but you get through it. It eases the bitterness and the anger if you can wake up in the morning and think ’forgive, forgive, forgive’.” While Anthony’s mum Gee says, “It is a life sentence. What does bitterness do? It eats you up inside, it’s like a cancer. We don’t want to serve a life sentence with those people.” Anthony’s mother and sister have managed, with God’s help, to show mercy to their loved one’s killers. They have ditched desire for revenge to forgive and release the bitterness that could tie them emotionally to those serving time.
If revenge is ‘Someone Getting their own back’, Justice: ‘Getting what you deserve’, Mercy: ‘Not getting what you deserve’, Grace is ‘Getting what you don’t deserve’. Les Miserables’ story of the bishop forgiving Val Jean for stealing his silverware moves ‘Mercy’ up a gear into the turbo-charge of ‘Grace’, when he tells Val Jean that he forgot to take the candlesticks! It’s the Grace of Jesus’ parable of the Father, who graces his wayward son, throwing a mega-party to celebrate his return, to the consternation of the elder brother. It’s the astonishing grace that some parents have shown the killers of their offspring, adopting their killers to replace those they so cruelly took away from them. It’s the Mercy and Grace that Jesus shines with as he agonises on Calvary’s cross and says, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing!” and turns to the thief on one side and says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” It’s the forgiveness, mercy and grace God offers us all, in the gift of new life and adoption as God’s daughters and sons. Indeed, all who see our need can receive from Father-God the riches of daily fresh starts, royal identity, pure purpose, and the daily renewing energy and strength to bless others and live well.
Our school assembly visits were crowned by a fun exercise of tying the inside legs of pals together and letting them loose to wander. But what if you were tied to that person till the end of the week, or the next 10 years!? Help, what a thought! How awkward, how undermining and disabling! The suggestion is that ‘unforgiveness’, and the bitterness it breads, can have such an impact on our lives. Thus, the incentive to learn to forgive and appreciate that ‘forgiveness is releasing’, ‘forgiveness is for giving’.