The inward voice of forgiveness
First published in the Christian Science Sentinel
Their stories are out there, ready to leave most of us in speechless awe when we come across them. Ready to stir admiration in us until we feel impelled, almost shamed, to take steps along the road from wrath to reconciliation.
Take Aba Gayle, an energetic grandmother of five who lives in Oregon. When her daughter was murdered over two decades ago, a furnace of anger ignited within her that raged on for eight years. During that time, by her own description, she "lusted for revenge."
Somehow, somehow, Gayle broke from that deadening cycle and began a spiritual journey. Then came a crucial intersection. An inward voice urged her to forgive her daughter's murderer, by then on death row, and ordered her to let him know of her forgiveness. She obeyed, both writing and visiting him. The friendship born of that extraordinary turnabout continues today.
Gayle is not alone. There are the parents of a young woman who, after she was stabbed to death by a mob in South Africa, hired two of the woman's convicted murderers to work for the foundation started in her name. There's the Connecticut preacher who lobbied for the release of his son's murderer, and later presided at his wedding. And so on and on.
Scrolling through their stories, I realize that while I can't fathom their anguish, I can marvel at the tide of forgiveness rising in their hearts. Don't these stories hint at a larger promise? For me they offer hope of healing, desperately needed in places like Najaf, Chechnya, Jerusalem - maybe in our own hometowns. Maybe even in my heart and yours.
If a mother, a father, a grandparent, who has gone through the worst possible nightmare, can find a way not to become consumed by wrath, what about the rest of us? All the hurts, affronts, betrayals, and revenge- seeking associated with the areas in turmoil around the globe suddenly don't seem insurmountable. All those ethnic rivalries raining down oceans of wrath suddenly don't seem as unhealable.
A passage from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy speaks of Christ as "above the reach of human wrath" (page 49). Of course, Christ, as a term, has a unique connection to Jesus. But I also know that the Bible speaks of all humanity as "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). So, whether a person is or is not a Christian, the fact remains that deep within, there is something Christlike about his or her true nature. That "something," that spiritual fact concerning that individual's true identity as the son or daughter of God, is what's out of range of human wrath.
I think of Jesus during the Crucifixion, and of the immeasurable wrath hurled at him. Through it all, in the parlance of today, he remained "on message." He didn't stop loving. The wrath failed; the Christly love did not. Among other things, the resurrection proved him to be above wrath's reach.
Just as encouraging, the power of the Christ not only keeps a person from being successfully targeted by wrath, but also keeps one from being successfully turned into a tool of wrath.
That's where the prayer comes in. Because it seems so many embittered individuals worldwide are all too ready to become wrath's tool. So, those with some glimpse of the spiritual nature of all people have before them an all-important task: to identify in prayer each individual's true, God-given, Christly nature. And to realize that this spiritual identity is an inerasable fact concerning each of us.
The results will trend toward the time when wrath consumes fewer and fewer of us, until the time when no one becomes its target or its tool. Why? It's simply not in the nature of God-created beings to be so. It is in our nature to remain "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ."
A soft answer
turneth away wrath.