As we begin a new year, author AMY BOUCHER PYE invites you to embrace a gift that keeps on giving – forgiveness ...
Marina Cantacuzino thinks not, saying, “Christians have no monopoly on forgiveness.”
She speaks as the founder of the Forgiveness Project, a secular organisation that seeks to foster the sharing of stories about forgiveness. Her book of the same name is filled with heartrending stories of forgiveness extended for murder, rape, kidnapping, alcoholism and many other crimes and issues. (See The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age [Jessica Kingsley, 2015])
For instance, Wilma Derksen tells of the disappearance of her 13-year-old daughter, who was raped and murdered. On the night they received the horrific news, she and her husband made a decision to forgive the perpetrators after they heard the story of one of their visitors.
He too was a father of a murdered child, but not only had he lost his daughter, he’d lost his health, relationships, concentration and even the memory of his daughter, for he could now only think of her brutal killing and not of who she had been. The aftermath of the murder had taken his life.
In the light of what they witnessed in his life, Wilma and her husband vowed to forgive, determined “to resist anything that would keep us in a state of emotional bondage”. But little did she know, Wilma says, “that the word ‘forgiveness’ would haunt me for the next 30 years – prod me, guide me, heal me, label me, enlighten me, imprison me, free me and, in the end, define me”. She sees forgiveness as “a fresh, ongoing, ever-present position of mind ... It’s a promise of what we want to do, a goal” (pages 116–17).
The stories in the book are powerful because they tell of lives transformed as those who forgive are freed from the prison of bitterness and regret. They illustrate the wisdom of God’s ways – that we are set free when we model his actions and extend forgiveness.
And I agree that as Christians we don’t have to think that we have a monopoly on forgiveness. Though we believe that the Lord is the source of forgiveness, it’s a practice that he makes available to all people, whether or not they follow him.
God is a forgiving God, as the Old Testament book of Micah attests. The prophet prays a prayer of lament for God’s people when they appear not to repent; he then turns to prayers of petition and finally to exclamations of praise and wonder:
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry for ever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago. (Micah 7:18–20, NIV)
Is there any other God, he says, than one like the Lord who pardons sins, doesn’t stay angry, and delights to show mercy? Micah vividly pictures the Lord drowning our wrongdoings in the depths of the sea, never to trouble us again. Why? Because of his faithful love, which he has pledged and shown for centuries.
No, those who follow the true and living God don’t hold a monopoly on forgiveness. If we tried to hoard it only for ourselves, we’d be working against the gracious gift that it is. After all, forgiveness prompts more forgiveness, for as we give and receive, we want others to experience the freedom it bestows.
Why not join me in praying for the gift of forgiveness to spread throughout our communities, towns and nations? We can ask God that more and more people will embrace forgiveness and do acts of kindness, and that the Lord will usher in freedom and peace. And we can pray that forgiveness will lead people to know Jesus, who showed the ultimate act of forgiveness on the cross.
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