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Is Forgiveness Possible?

It was a hot, quiet, lazy Sunday afternoon. Many of the villagers were seated outside under the shade of the trees or shade provided by houses that had not been burnt during the attack. The renowned cool and pleasant weather the Jos-Plateau people were accustomed to was just a dream. The air was still and only the troublesome flies flew around like nothing had happened.

The town had an eerie feeling to it; it was a ghost town. The air was still slightly hazy from several structures that were still smoking. Shattered louvers, burnt zinc roofing sheets, charred wood and pieces of iron and metal that had not been destroyed was all that remained of the once lively and bubbly community. The villagers looked discouraged and sad. Understandably so since loved ones had been rudely snatched away just weeks ago, the tears still ran and the wounds still raw and so painful.

For years the Hausa-Fulani people had lived amicably with the inhabitants of the land; the Berom. For years they had grazed their cattle on their land, traded amongst themselves, celebrated births, mourned deaths and had enjoyed many jokes together as they often shared meals with each other. They knew their names, spoke their language, and like all peaceful living neighbors came to borrow the occasional pinch of salt or coal to light a fire to prepare the evening meal.

On the early hours of March 7 those same “friendly neighbors” came to the village but not to smile and chat but to kill and destroy. Boldly they came to the door and shamelessly with a good natured voice they called out a greeting in the local dialect before they proceeded to ruthlessly kill their friends. The inhabitants of the village finally realized what there Hausa-Fulani counterparts were up to and tried to flee but alas they were not fast enough for their sophisticated weapons and their machetes that flew through the air. Amidst the cries of help and screams of pain their once friends exchanged crude jokes before some even dared to boldly tell them that their days on this earth were over and proceeded to gleefully pour petrol on their bodies and burn them to death.

How do you ever forgive and love again…..Is it even possible I asked?
The deception was huge the betrayal colossal and to most the action was utterly unforgivable. What about what the Bible says about forgiveness and love? I asked. What about the fact that the Hausa- Fulani are not saved and are inhabited by the devil? I questioned. What about the fact they many of them are under arrest and would be tried in the court of Law? I argued. None of this mattered to the villagers as many of them told me that they would not feel like justice had been done till they were all caught and killed. They could not forgive them unless they cried like they did over the loss of a child or spouse. Love they said with scorn as they blatantly laughed in my face was a figment of my imagination. With machetes and knives they had sliced open guts and cracked the skulls of their friends. Children they had often watch playing football and hide and seek with theirs had tried to scamper away as fast as their little legs would carry them they shot them from behind…Love they asked shaking their heads, forgiveness……..How??

One of the most important issues that we all face in life is the question of forgiveness. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus showed his recognition of this by including our request for God's forgiveness, and our offer of it to others, as part of our daily prayer. We are never free of the need of receiving forgiveness from God and from one another, and also of giving it to one another. It has been said that "the most painful question short of our own death is the question of forgiveness."

God commands us to love our enemies as we love ourselves. I thought of the Jews that were tortured in Nazi concentration camps during the holocaust, I thought of victims of the Rwandan genocide, I thought of the brutality of the Ku Klux Klan, I thought of the South African Apartheid and the IRA bombings and thought of families of victims of people like Jeffery Dahmer who had killed and cannibalized seventeen young men. I thought of victims of rape, sexual harassment and other vicious crimes. How had they gotten over the hurt and pain? How if ever were they able to forgive

In his book The Sunflower, Simon Wiesenthal, the world's foremost Nazi hunter, tells of his war experiences. In 1944 he was a young Polish prisoner on his way to concentration camps. He had looked on helplessly as Nazi soldiers forced his mother into a freight car crammed with elderly Jewish women, and as they shot his grandmother to death on the stairway of her home. Altogether, 89 of his Jewish relatives would die at the hands of the Nazis.
Forgiveness is the miracle of a new beginning. It is to start where we are, not where we wish we were, or the other person was. It is to hold out a hand; allow a fairness to start over; to want to renew a friendship
One bright sunny day, in a hospital for German casualties, he found himself alone with a dying German soldier in a dark, musty room. White gauze covered the man's face, with openings cut out for mouth, nose, and ears. "My name is Karl," said a strained voice that came from somewhere within the bandages. "I must tell you of this horrible deed - tell you because you are a Jew."

Karl told of his Catholic childhood and the faith he had lost in the Hitler Youth Corps. He spoke of his service in the army and his recent return, severely wounded, from the Russian front. Finally he told of something that had happened in Ukrainian territory. Booby traps had killed 30 soldiers in Karl's unit. As an act of revenge they had rounded up 300 Jews, herded them into a three-storey house, doused it with gasoline, and fired grenades at it. Karl and his men encircled the house, their guns drawn to shoot anyone who tried to escape. "The screams from the house were horrible," he said. "I saw a man with a small child in his arms. His clothes were alight. By his side stood a woman, doubtless the mother of the child. With his free hand the man covered the child's eyes - then he jumped into the street. Seconds later the mother followed. Then from the other windows fell burning bodies. We shot..."

Karl described other atrocities, but kept circling back to the image of that young boy with black hair and dark eyes falling from a building, target practice for the SS rifles. "I am left here with my guilt," he concluded at last. "I know that what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and time again I have longed to talk about it to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. Only I didn't know if there were any Jews left...I know what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace.

"Simon Wiesenthal, an architect in his early twenties, now a prisoner dressed in a shabby uniform marked with the yellow Star of David, felt the entire weight of his race bearing down on him. He stared out the window at the sunlit courtyard. He looked at the eyeless heap of bandages lying in the bed. "At last I made up my mind," he writes, "and without a word I left the room."

Such incidence raises in the starkest manner the whole subject of forgiveness and love and leaves us begging for answers more confused than ever. The scene in the hospital room haunted Wiesenthal. He asked fellow prisoners what he should have done. He inquired of rabbis and priests. Finally, when he wrote up the story 20 years later, he sent it to the brightest ethical minds he knew - Jew, Gentile, Catholic, Protestant, and irreligious. "What would you have done in my place?" he asked. "Did I do right?" Of the 32 men and women who responded, only 6 said he had done wrong in not forgiving the German. Most thought he had done right. "What moral or legal authority did he have to forgive injuries done to someone else?" they asked.

Forgiveness is the miracle of a new beginning. It is to start where we are, not where we wish we were, or the other person was. It is to hold out a hand; allow a fairness to start over; to want to renew a friendship; to want a new relationship with husband, father, daughter, friend, or in this case a foe. It usually does not take away the hurt or deny the past injury. It does not ignore the possibility and need for repentance and a change in the relationship. Neither does it means being willing to take the initiative in dealing with any barriers that may be raising towards a restored relationship. It means that I am willing to have a relationship with the other party that is based on Christian love and not on what has happened in the past, if the response of the other person makes that possible. Forgiveness is not forgetting, it is not avoidance, neither is it excusing.

Forgiveness offers a way out; it breaks the cycle of blame and loosens the stranglehold of guilt. It does not settle all questions of blame and fairness, often it pointedly evades those question. Imagine a world of no forgiveness. Imagine what would happen if no one person ever forgave. Imagine if every nation, race and tribe through history never forgave as we are on the verge of now. The Jewish philosopher once said the only remedy for the inevitability of history is forgiveness; otherwise, we remain trapped in the “predicament of irreversibility”.

Magnanimous forgiveness allows the process of transformation in the guilty party. Described as Spiritual Surgery it goes thus: When you forgive someone you slice around the wrong from the person who did it. You disengage that person from his hurtful act. You recreate him. At one moment you identify him ineradicably as the person who did you wrong. The next moment you change that identity. He is remade in your memory. You think of him/ her now not as the person who hurt you, but as the person who needs you. You feel him now not as the person who alienated you, but as the person who belongs to you. Once you branded him as a person powerful in evil, but now you see him as a person weak in his needs. You created your past by recreating the person whose wrong made your past painful.

You now question, "Isn't that ignoring the past? What about justice?" The issue of justice faces us with the cost of forgiveness. Paul says, "Forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you" (Colossians 3:13). Our forgiveness of others is to be of a similar nature to Christ's forgiveness of us. What did it cost Christ to forgive us? It cost him his life. God is not only perfect in love. He is also perfect in justice. There is justice at the heart of this universe. That means that if we are to be forgiven, someone has to accept the consequences for our wrongdoing. In a manner that surpasses all human understanding, Jesus Christ accepted that responsibility.

Forgiveness through love is a long and treacherous journey. Making sense the response of the people of Dogo Na Hawa. Today you can forgive and tomorrow you can feel the pain all over again. It is this that is the miracle of forgiveness. We must recognize that God has forgiven us, and given us the ability to forgive. Nothing we do can make God love us more and nothing we do can make him love us less. It should be the same with our fellow human beings. Forgiveness is about grace; unworldly, transforming and supernatural

We have all been hurt. We have all been betrayed. We have all cried tears disappointment. Now it’s time to forgive. And when we do genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the person we set free was us.


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