Forgiving the unforgivable

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

The headline reads, "Why do they forgive us?" This question is posed by two black South African men, Ntobeko Peni and Easy Nofemela, who were part of a group that murdered an American white woman, Amy Biehl, in 1993, when she was helping register black voters for South Africa's first free election.

The question is about her parents, Linda and Peter Biehl, who, instead of becoming angry and resentful, chose to forgive their daughter's murderers. And they even went a step further and established the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust. The organization's logo is two hands intertwined - one black and one white - with the slogan "Weaving a Barrier Against Violence." The Biehls hired Mr. Peni and Mr. Nofemela to work with the foundation, which has programs that include education, recreation, environmental projects, job training, and more.

Mrs. Biehl said: "Everyone says, 'You just forgave them.' My husband and I talked about this a lot. Yes, forgiveness is one part of it, but the real challenge - and what I think South Africa is about - is the reconciliation aspect. And reconciliation is about work. You can forgive someone and walk away and go on with your life ... but if you're going to make a real difference and work at changing conditions, it's more the reconciliation process, the coming together and going forward mutually. It's taking things that are negative and turning them into positive energy" (The Boston Globe, April 23).

Their example of love and forgiveness is a poignant one in a world that is desperately crying out for more gentleness. Their example has moved me to ask myself how can I be more willing to forgive and also to look at what would make me unwilling to forgive.

What often stands in the way is a feeling that the other person doesn't deserve to be forgiven.

Do they deserve to be forgiven?

A friend of mine who is a Christian Science practitioner shed some new light on this subject. She said, "The issue isn't whether someone deserves to be forgiven; rather the issue is that forgiveness aids healing." Certainly that is seen in the lives of Peni and Nofemela who have moved forward with their lives, due in some part to the love and forgiveness expressed by the Biehls.

Jesus gave the parable of the prodigal son in which the younger son asks for his share of his inheritance early. His father gives him his half, and he wastes it on "extravagant living." When the money runs out and famine strikes, the famished son returns home and asks his father to hire him as a servant. "But while he was still some distance off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him" (Luke 15:20, J.B. Phillips).

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, wrote: "If you have been badly wronged, forgive and forget: God will recompense this wrong, and punish, more severely than you could, him who has striven to injure you" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," page 12).

A call for humility and willingness

Even though I haven't had to forgive in extreme situations, I am seeing more and more opportunities every day, however small, to express love and forgiveness. Renewing my commitment to forgiving brings more peace into my life.

Several years ago I woke up one morning feeling ill and in turmoil about a relationship. I knew that I needed to overcome the bitterness and resentment that I felt toward this person. But no matter how hard I tried to love, I felt angry. As I prayed, one thing became clear: I needed the humility and willingness to let go of the resentment.

The Bible says: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Cor. 5:17). Science and Health describes the nature and purpose of the Christ as "the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" (page 332).

I heard that message telling me that I could love, because as a child of God made in His image and likeness it is simply my nature to love. Identifying myself correctly made all the difference. I started to feel differently inside, and the feelings of anger and resentment dissolved. My heart was changed, and the physical illness was healed, too.

Little acts of forgiveness may not seem earth-shattering or world- changing. But they are a start. And the light of those little acts of love and kindness eventually mount up and dissolve the darkness.

Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another,
even as God for Christ's sake
hath forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:32

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