The Rev. Holly McKissick, Peace Christian Church UCC, Kansas City, Mo.: “You can’t forgive?”
The priest pointed to the little boy with tousled brown hair. It was 1992 in a poor village in northern El Salvador.
A corrupt military had conducted a scorched-earth policy against the people of this humble country for years, but the civil war was over. The people were wounded and raw, but tender with hope; there was much talk about building a new El Salvador.
We were at Mass when the bishop spoke on reconciliation and forgiveness. After reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount — the difficult words about making peace with your sister or brother before you leave your gift at the altar — the priest asked, “Is there anyone here who cannot love an enemy? Make peace with a brother?”
The little boy held his hand up high. The bishop paused, then looked at him: “You can’t forgive your brother?” The boy shook his head. What could you say?
He had been 8 when he returned home after gathering firewood. The army had come through. His mother and three sisters were dead; his mother’s head was on a post.
Why should we forgive our enemies? No doubt it is a generous gift to see the one who has wronged us as an altar of God, but I confess I find it hard to love the brother who rapes, betrays, destroys.
Why should the little boy forgive?
Nelson Mandela answered, “Forgiveness liberates the soul, that’s why it is such a powerful weapon.”
I do hope the little boy was able to forgive, finally; I hope he was able to find at least a glimmer of healing and peace. I hope he was able to build that new country — beyond hate — where he could live out his days liberated by the power of forgiveness.
The Rev. Joe Nassal, Precious Blood Center, Liberty, Mo.: While the Book of Revelation may warn that God does not forgive sinners, the evidence to the contrary in the Scriptures is overwhelming that God’s best quality is divine mercy.
In the first chapter of Revelation we read that “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness . . .who loves us and freed us from our sins by his own blood.”
Forgiveness is a gift that comes first in the form of grace and then is given as a gift to another in the form of mercy. Or as John Arnott put it, “Grace is getting something that you don’t deserve; mercy is not getting something that you do deserve.”
Forgiveness is not a warm, fuzzy feeling; it is a decision, an act of the will. This means that even though I carry the scar of the injury or the injustice of the one who has sinned against me, I will not allow the memory of it to withhold the mercy I extend to the other. I will not allow the sin of the past to dominate my present or control my future.
Some believe that to forgive the sinner is to diminish the importance of or even erase altogether the offense. But as Lewis B. Smedes wrote, “When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.”
Ultimately, forgiveness is a step in the direction of the hope.
“The purpose of forgiveness,” Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino wrote, “is not simply to heal the guilt of the sinner but the purpose of all love: to come into communion.”
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