Forgiveness

This is a tragic and heart-wrenching story from yesterday’s Times:

London bombs terror attack The Times and Sunday Times Times Online

The Revd Julie Nicholson lost her daughter Jenny in the 7/7 London bombings last year. She has stood down as a parish priest, because she cannot forgive the suicide bomber who murdered her daughter. One cannot help but respect her integrity and weep for her pain.

There is a companion piece on the site, How They Coped, which appeared as a sidebar in the paper yesterday. Various people who have faced injustice, violence and the loss of a loved one are interviewed on the subject of forgiveness:

Lesley Bilinda, a Christian aid worker whose Rwandan husband was murdered in the 1994 genocide but does not know her murderers, speaks of the difficulty when you do not know who it is you need to forgive. To avoid resentment destroying her, she forgives them in her head since she could not forgive them to their faces.

Lord Tebbit, whose wife Margaret was permanently disabled in the 1984 IRA Brighton bomb, says forgiveness is not meaningful unless the perpetrator shows repentance. If I read him rightly, he does not forgive the bomber, Patrick McGee, because he judges him not to have repented. Christians may well sympathise with Tebbit’s emphasis on repentance but might say that forgiveness still needs to be offered. Where we might agree with him is that the forgiveness does not become effective until it is received by repentance. But that should not stop us offering it and breaking the cycle of hatred. (None of that precludes the proper course of justice.)

Bill Griffiths, an 85-year-old former POW of the Japanese in World War 2, says he will never forgive and he doesn’t speak about it with fellow veterans but then implies a sense of forgiveness by a roundabout route by working for a charity that helps former servicemen. Is he right that this is roundabout forgiveness?

Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, talks about his experiences in Idi Amin’s Uganda. “I am greatly forgiven by a loving God, so when I consider the beating handed out to me by Idi Amin’s murder squad, I have to choose to react in God’s way … I realised that if you do not forgive, your own prayer life is ruined.”

Marina Cantacuzino of The Forgiveness Project says, “Forgiving is not a sign of moral or spiritual superiority but it is a journey, whereas revenge is a cycle.” (I like that: forgiveness isn’t a one-off but a process.) Later she says, “It’s a gift from one person to another, and not something that anyone deserves.” (How true in terms of grace.) Sadly she concludes by saying, “It’s not for everyone, and that has to be respected.”

Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim was murdered in the 1993 IRA atrocity at Warrington, says, “It’s not that I can’t forgive, it’s that I choose not to.” (Frightening and honest words.) He claims to have avoided the negative emotions by channelling his energies into charity work. Yet the unforgiveness remains. At the same time, I would add, the journey (if I may borrow Marina Cantacuzino’s image) of forgiveness involves what a friend of mine calls befriending our anger, and recognising that it is part of us, not something that came in from outside. There is nothing wrong with a desire for proper justice. But justice and revenge are different.

I hope my little comments are not trite. I have not had a loved one murdered. I hope I never have to face that.

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