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Forgive and forget

April 17, 2013

“You’re forgiven but not forgotten” – the Corrs (from the album Forgiven not forgotten)

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you” – Lewis B Smedes.

Last night I was attending the Freedom in Christ Course at my church and we had an interesting discussion on the whole question of forgiveness. We were reminded that generally the one who benefits most from forgiveness is the one who forgives.

We see many examples of people who cannot or will not forgive, but carry a bitterness and a desire for revenge with them for many years. We talked about those who had  experienced some of the worst things in life and had given all their energy to obtain revenge, and others by contrast who had forgiven, Only today I saw that the mother of Madeline McCann had expressed forgiveness to whoever had abducted her daughter.

Forgiveness is often seen as weakness, but I was reminded of the following story:

“Imagine this scene from a courtroom trial in South Africa:

A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet. She is something over 70 years of age. Facing her from across the room are several white security police officers, one of whom, a Mr Van der Broek, has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman’s son and her husband some years before.

“It was indeed Mr Van der Broek, it has been established, who had come to the woman’s home a number of years back, taken her only child – a son, shot him at point -blank range and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby.

“Several years later, Van der Broek and his cohorts had returned to take away her husband as well. For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then, almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, the hate-filled Van der Broek came back to fetch the woman herself. How vividly she remembers that evening, going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his swollen lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, “Father, forgive them…”

“And now the elderly widow woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confession offered by Mr Van der Broek. A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, “So, what do you want now? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your loved ones??”

“I want three things,” begins the old woman, calmly, but confidently. “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.” She pauses, then continues. “My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr Van der Broek to become my adopted son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me, so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining within me, for the rest of my years.”

“And, finally,” she says with tears welling in her eyes, “I want a third thing.  I would like Mr Van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr Van der Broek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.” As the court assistants come to lead the elderly woman across the room, Mr van der Broek, overwhelmed by what he has just heard, faints. And as he does, those in the courtroom, friends, family, neighbours -all victims of decades of oppression and injustice–begin to sing softly, but assuredly, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….”

Gulp! Now that’s forgiveness! Whatever wrongs I have had done to me come nowhere close.

We often lump together forgiving and forgetting, But the fact is that forgiveness does not require forgetting. Often we have to live with the consequences of the wrongs that are done to us, for example a broken relationship. The lady in South African could not bring her husband and son back but she knew how to forgive.


From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Angela Best permalink

    Wow. That really is a power full story, of one strong and amazing woman. What faith she must of had. I found last night really hard, it is a hard subject to cover I think, yet Jesus has made it so easy for us. So why do we tie ourselves up in knots and sometimes even destroy our own lives by cradling hurt, anger and pain like it is some comfort blanket, that must never be dropped from our grip. Starting on my journey with God, I’ve realised the changes that I need to make in myself, my actions, and my thoughts towards others. Now, I find this hard, but what I am finding most difficult, are friends and family, who do not share the same beliefs, have no idea on forgiveness, even for the tiniest of things, and small things bring them to their knees. It is so unnecessary, and it is difficult to watch them be so tied up in bitterness. I’m hoping that if I can work hard on my own challenges with forgiveness, then maybe they will see a difference in me, and will hopefully make them question why.
    Thanks so much for your posts and blog, they are truly inspiring.


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