Beyond Human Limits
Sometimes when we’ve been wronged and struggle to forgive those who have wronged us, the examples of others who have forgiven far greater wrongs help us put things in perspective. When they speak of the power of forgiveness, the world listens.
When we think of forgiveness, the fear may arise that evil will remain unpunished. It is as if forgiving might mean to give up the right to punish evil.
Despite all of this, I have to see what evil does to me—it makes me want to react to evil with evil. Then I see everything with dark glasses of evil. It paralyzes me and alienates me from life. Forgiving means bidding goodbye to evil, in order not to be guided by it any more.
A process of reconciliation may take some time, as the other side has to recognize its faults also. With forgiveness, however, I don’t need to wait or waste any time. Forgiveness gives me freedom to love now. When we attain this freedom, we realize that those who have done evil are themselves its victims.
—Father Andrija Vrane, Croatian survivor of the 1990s civil war in the former Yugoslav republics.
I was profoundly touched by him. I felt the genuineness of his apology. I would like to hold him by the hand and show him that there is a future, and that he can still change.
—Pearl Faku in South Africa, explaining why she forgave Eugene de Kock, the man who masterminded an apartheid-era bombing operation in Motherwell township, South Africa, that killed her husband and three others.
Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. 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.
—Marie Roberts, widow of Charles Carl Roberts, in an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. (On the morning of October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts arrived at the one-room schoolhouse of an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA. He took 10 young girls hostage, tied them up, shot them, and then killed himself. Five of the girls—all of whom were Amish—died. Commentators the world over were astounded at the forgiveness that was expressed by the Amish—forgiveness that was manifested not only in words, but also in acts of love toward Roberts’s grieving family.)
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, [my sister] Betsie’s pain-blanched face. He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
—Corrie ten Boom, Dutch Christian survivor of WWII Nazi concentration camps, where her father and sister both died.
“Why should I forgive anyone who doesn’t say they are sorry?” people often ask me. And I tell them, “Life is too short for me to hang around waiting for someone to say sorry to me.” My saying, “It’s okay—I forgive you,” does not depend on others saying they are sorry. For me that’s not a precondition. The Our Father [Lord’s Prayer] doesn’t say, “Please forgive me so I can go and forgive others.” Jesus taught us that we need to forgive others before we can ask to be forgiven.
—Stella Sabiti, who was tortured during the 1970s regime of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. She is now the executive director of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE), a Uganda-based not-for-profit NGO founded in 1995 by women aspiring to promote alternative and creative means of preventing, managing, and resolving conflict. She has taken her message of forgiveness and reconciliation to five continents and has been instrumental in helping to resolve bloody conflicts in over half a dozen African countries.
By Virginia Brandt Berg
“Lord, make all the bad people good,” a young boy prayed, “and then make all the good people nice.” Unfortunately, in this imperfect world, sometimes we have to live around people who aren’t always good, and other times we have to live around generally good people who aren’t always nice. We’ve all been in situations where we feel we’ve been unjustly treated or misjudged, and we almost certainly will be again.
At times like that, it’s good to remember that we, too, haven’t always been good or nice. “Judge not, that you be not judged,” the Bible says, “for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). That should make us a little more thoughtful about our attitudes toward others, especially those who have wronged us, for exactly what we give will be exactly what we receive. “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1).
Perhaps you feel that you have to do something about the wrong that’s been done to you, to hurt others as they’ve hurt you, but don’t do it; don’t bear a grudge. Nothing will sour your disposition and ruin your happiness like letting bitterness creep into your heart. Beware “lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). It is far better to forgive and forget that injustice you’ve suffered. Pity and love and pray for those who hurt you, and then leave matters in God’s hands (Matthew 5:44-48; 1 Peter 3:9).
God knows all about it, and His Word speaks with finality regarding our forgiving those who wrong us, no matter how unfair it all seems. Jesus said, “If you do not forgive men their [wrongs], neither will your Father forgive your [wrongs]” (Matthew 6:15), and “My heavenly Father also will [punish] you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his [wrongs]” (Matthew 18:35).
You can’t do that yourself; it’s not in your human nature to forgive. It has to be Jesus working in and through you. Tell Him about it, ask Him to cleanse your heart of any animosity or bitterness that may be festering, and turn the situation over to Him completely—and don’t take it back the next time you think about that person or situation. Only then is He able to go to work on your behalf, to heal your spirit and help you move on. This usually isn’t what we feel like doing, but it’s God’s solution.
If you’ve been hurt, He waits to help you, He wants to help you, and He will. But you must set things in motion. You must forgive.
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