'I DO forgive you," Beulah Mae Donald said to one of the men who had brutally murdered her son. They had come upon him as he was walking home, and they had killed him simply because he was black. Responding to the convicted killer's remorse and plea for forgiveness, Mrs. Donald went on, "From the day I found out who you all was, I asked God to take care of y'all, and He has" (from a report published by Klanwatch, a project of The Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama).
Such forgiveness has its basis in the kind of Christly love that Jesus lived and taught to his followers. It is a healing love that builds unity and peace, and it is desperately needed if we are to overcome the racial and ethnic battles going on in our troubled world.
Often the fire of hatred is kept alive by the belief that another group is our (or our family's) enemy. We feel we need to be vigilant against them because they are born to be evildoers. Yet Christ Jesus, whose ability to discern the heart of humankind is unmatched, took quite a different approach in his Sermon on the Mount. Matthew's Gospel tells us the Master said specifically, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" (5:44, 45).
To me, this means that we can't perceive our own goodness as the children of God while we are unwilling to recognize the spiritual nature of others. Spiritual nature? Yes, each of us is actually the offspring of God, Spirit, and is made in His likeness. Even though we may not always exhibit intelligent and loving behavior, these qualities are the reality of our being. The same is true for those we might consider enemies.
In reality, those we call enemies-or equally uncomplimentary names-also have their source in God. When we see them from this standpoint, we recognize that they have God-given ability to do good, to be honest, to progress. When we affirm and accept such truths, we are in fact doing good to our enemies as Christ Jesus taught. We also are happier. Why? Because as the children of God, Love, it is natural for us to love and totally unnatural to hate. So when we hate -or even dislike-we are literally going against our own nature.
Despite this spiritual fact, there may be times when hate-filled thoughts seem real and even justified. Perhaps a neighbor or the news media get us worked up about a local event or a national trend. This is the time to resist firmly the temptation to believe that hatred is better than love.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, was no stranger to persecution from hate-filled enemies. But instead of becoming bitter, she writes in an article called "Love Your Enemies," collected in her Miscellaneous Writings, "We must love our enemies in all the manifestations wherein and whereby we love our friends; must even try not to expose their faults, but to do them good whenever opportunity occurs" (p. 11).
As we take such steps, we are not just giving up the hatred that would keep us from loving and useful relationships; we are also reminding ourselves of our own spirituality, as well as that of the so-called enemy. Through such affirmations of the divine reality, we find it easier to see the spiritual qualities expressed by those around us, no matter what their color or ethnic background is. We may learn to appreciate new insights into diligence, joy, persistence, or even love. This doesn't mean that we won't have to pray sometimes to retain our sense of spiritual reality. But through practice-one loving thought or deed at a time, perhaps-we will see more and more clearly the unifying and healing power of Christly love.
If he repent, forgive him.