On Sunday at our youth group we were looking at forgiveness. It is such a big issue for everyone: How can we find forgiveness for the things we feel guilt for? And how can we forgive others who have hurt us?
Forgiveness in South Africa
One of the other leaders had just got back from South Africa and we talked about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by Desmond Tutu which granted an amnesty to those who gave a full and public confession of crimes committed during the apartheid regime. (the story of the Commission is told in Tutu’s amazing book No Future Without Forgiveness)
Of course South Africa continues to face many challenges but rather than brush the issues under the carpet, the process of forgiveness did the opposite: it helped the country face up to the horrors of what had gone on. Tutu said:
“Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering— remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
Forgiveness in South London
Then, closer to home, we looked at how Margaret Mizen has coped with the murder of her son Jimmy Mizen who died 5 years ago following an attack in a bakery in Lee, South London. Margaret Mizen said in an interview last week:
“I can say that unless I had God in my life we would not have coped. Prayer got us through…I don’t feel anger because it was anger that killed my Jimmy. Anger breeds anger. I won’t let bitterness ruin my family…My understanding of forgiveness doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. I forgive because it helps me, I let go of the anger because it helps me”
The trap of retribution
The examples of these two brave people of faith spoke to our young people. We talked about the everyday conflicts which break out at school, at home (or at church) and leaders shared similar stories from work.
Everyone can see the trap created by retribution and bitterness and our tendency to be drawn to a form of justice which perpetuates conflict. Our discussion showed that everyone, whether young or old, Christian or not, has a deep need for the grace which can break cycles of bitterness and discord.
Forgiveness which liberates
The words and wisdom of Desmond Tutu and Margaret Mizen show that forgiveness is not about ignoring what has happened or offering a ‘cheap grace’ which skirts over reality. Rather true forgiveness faces what has happened but refuses to allow a burden of bitterness and corrosive anger to grow. Forgiveness liberates the forgiver as much as the forgiven.
When we do forgive others, we are following the example of the One who even when being executed prayed for the forgiveness of those who were killing him. This is the heart of the Christian message and the awesome power of God’s grace and forgiveness.