Fearless forgiveness

A Christian Science perspective: News of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik a year after the killings in Norway brings to mind an example of a father's forgiveness after his daughter was killed by a bombing in Northern Ireland.

When I read of the reasonings, hateful ideas, and expostulations of Anders Behring Breivik regarding the murders he committed in Norway last year, I am reminded of a heinous incident in my home country of Northern Ireland. Irish Republican terrorists had planted a bomb at a Remembrance Day Sunday service, killing many people, including the daughter of a dear friend, Gordon Wilson. He was interviewed a few hours after the atrocity, and his words of forgiveness and love reverberated around the world. It caused terrorists in Ireland, and perhaps in other parts of the world, to rethink their actions. His words also contributed greatly to the peace process.

At this time of anguish at the senseless killings in Norway and around the world, perhaps a reiteration of Gordon’s words would be helpful. In an interview with the BBC, he described the last moments of his daughter Marie’s life, and his thoughts toward the killers: “She held my hand tightly and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, ‘Daddy, I love you very much.’ Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say.” Gordon amazingly continued, “But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life.... I will pray for these men tonight and every night.”

When a crime has been committed against us, our families, or our nation, there is a righteous indignation, a welling up of resentment and bitterness. But if we let it fester into revenge, hatred, and retaliation, then the terrorists win. Peace is won only through forgiveness, dialogue, and reconciliation. A crime has a great impact on the one who has committed it. The first terrorist to kill a policeman in the Northern Ireland Troubles strutted about in his own area as a hero for a number of years, but gradually he found he could not sleep, he became ill, and eventually he gave himself up to the police and begged the forgiveness of the family.

Even in the face of extreme provocation, terrorism, or war, or when the world shouts, as it did to the crowds surrounding Jesus, “Crucify him, crucify him,” what of ourselves? Can we find it within us to forgive? If we fail to forgive, then we are failing to see even a crumb of humanity in the other person. We are failing to recognize that there stands a beloved spiritual idea of God. In spite of the most heinous crime committed against him, Christ Jesus was able to say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

He also said that we should forgive “seventy times seven”  – in other words, forgive everything. He made the unconditional statement that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do not, we are not truly following the Master, and we might be seeing ourselves as unlovable as well. But Jesus had a different view. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, explained: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 476-477).

Unforgiveness is a sickness from which we can be healed, and in this healing we uplift ourselves, our neighbor, our world. Though it appears not to know it at times, humanity is crying out for forgiveness, for love. Mrs. Eddy further wrote, “One’s first lesson is to learn one’s self; having done this, one will naturally, through grace from God, forgive his brother and love his enemies” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 129).

What really frees us is the understanding that no matter what another person does, each of us is in reality the individual reflection of God, and therefore we cannot be subject to the idea that someone owes us repentance or submission to retribution or revenge. We have no gaps in our wholeness that need to be filled with these false thoughts. Because we are supremely loved, we can fearlessly forgive. 

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