Desmond Tutu recently wrote this piece in the Guardian about forgiveness. As a man who grew up witnessing his father abusing his mother, who explains the story of putting his father off of a conversation until the following day only to find that he died overnight, ans who lived through the brutal Apartheid regime in South Africa, he knows a lot about the subject. So when he writes the following, we need to take note,
“Retaliation gives, at best, only momentary respite from our pain. The only way to experience healing and peace is to forgive. Until we can forgive, we remain locked in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of being at peace.”
Forgiveness is at the heart of emotional healing. It is the key to giving us peace and it is the cornerstone of Jesus’ actions at the cross.
Many of the new atheists see this as a vile thought. Richard Dawkins, speaking on the Premier Christian Radio show ‘Unbelievable?’ said that the idea that God could only forgive our sins by torturing himself was “revolting”. Others state that it’s ridiculous to suggest that God feels the need to do this to save us from himself.
All of this is to miss the point about forgiveness. This is the ultimate act of forgiveness, not only because it allows for everyone to be forgiven everything, but on the many levels that forgiveness happens.
The one thing everyone thinks of is God forgiving us. That is, of course, the main thing. Jesus took the punishment we were all due so that we could come to him and ask for forgiveness. He is our proxy and our way to the father. It is an amazing act of self sacrifice that was needed because sin had, and has, such a hold in this world that only a massive act would break it’s power. We can all be forgiven, if we ask.
But being forgiven and seeing the power of sin broken don’t just mean that. It also gives us the power to forgive. Jesus is our example in this. He didn’t think about the personal cost, he knew that this forgiveness was God’s will and he obeyed. We now have a new way.
Jesus quotes this passage in Exodus,
“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:24-25 NIV)
This is what people of the time will have seen as their moral code; retribution and revenge. Jesus turns it round, though,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)
Forgiveness of others is at the heart of his action. Not just forgiveness of the little things, either, but of evil. He knows it’s hard, look at the agony he has gone through to show us, but it is God’s will, so we should follow. If we want forgiveness, we should always be willing to forgive as well.
This isn’t a natural thing for us to do. If it was then we wouldn’t see extremism sprouting up in the face of injustice. If it was then we wouldn’t see baying mobs outside courts where suspected killers or paedophiles were being tried. If it was then we wouldn’t see so much conflict in the world.
On 8 November 1989, during a Remembrance parade in the Northern Ireland town of Enniskillen, an IRA bomb went off and killed 12 people. One of those was a young nurse called Marie Wilson.
Her father, Gordon, was with her, but survived. You would expect and understand if he wants revenge. If he was consumed with hatred and a desire for retribution. I can’t say that I wouldn’t be if I were in his shoes. He said, however,
“I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge.”
He forgave the bombers, prayed fir them, then strove and worked fir peace in Northern Ireland until his death in 1995.
That is forgiveness! That is God’s will and the example of Jesus.
There is still more to it than that, though. Being forgiven by God and by others is amazing. Forgiving others is freeing and healing. But how hard is it for us to forgive ourselves?
Many of us spend our lives tearing ourselves apart over things we have dine in the past. We see ourselves as worthless, weak, evil, dirty. We dwell on those thoughts until they consume us and affect the way we live our lives.
Jesus says stop. He has forgiven us, the father has forgiven us. We are clean. We are right again. We need to see that in ourselves.
Coming to the cross is not a way to ease our conscience, rather it is a way for us to truly change. It allows us to move on from the past, from the person we have been, and to move forward with a clean slate. Our past sins aren’t forgotten, but they are forgiven. They are lessons, to ourselves and others, in what to avoid, how to avoid and how to move on.
If we can’t get past our own failings, how can we expect others to? How can we expect to be able to truly forgive others?
Jesus died so that we are all forgiven. By God, by others and by ourselves.
He died so that we all forgive both others and ourselves.
He died so that we can learn and move on together.
That’s not revolting! It’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever hear.