This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young: Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
On the Indonesian Island of Haruku, a large number of Christian school children have lost one or both parents because of persecution. The children suffer as much or more from the persecution than their parents who died. Their intense sorrow and hardship classifies them as martyrs for their Christian faith.
One January night, 14-year-old Maria Nenkeulah grew worried when her mother and father had not returned home. Her parents had left her in charge of her younger brothers and sisters. "I waited for them until 10 o'clock and wondered why they hadn't come back," Maria said. All night long she and the other children waited fearfully in the dark. They were afraid to go out and ask if anyone had seen their parents, but they were also afraid of knowing where they were.
The next day came and went, and still Maria's parents did not return home. She alerted other Christians in the village who began to search for them. After looking for them through that night and the next day, they found the bodies of Maria's parents buried beneath some banana leaves at the bottom of the village water well. They had been hacked to death by a radical Muslim mob.
Maria finds it difficult to forgive. She remains bitter against those responsible for killing her mother and father. "I still don't know whether I can forgive them or not because they have killed my parents. I still doubt about it."
A moment of introspection: It is uncommon, is it not, for an oppressor or abuser to ask forgiveness for their actions. The heat of the moment, the adrenalin, and the anger swell up to keep any recognition of having done wrong, at bay. Indeed, Tacitus (in his Agricola, sec. 42) remarked that "It is human nature to hate those whom you have injured." From the perspective of the abused, or the victim, though, reactions of fear, horror, anger, hatred, desire for revenge, and profound grief, depression, desire to hit back, and more...are expected--enslaving himself or herself to the abuser, sometimes for years afterwards, while the abuser lives his/her life unencumbered and free. Yet God's Word has much to say, in encouraging us believers to respond differently to abuse and oppression.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught us, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48) Within even one verse (Verse 44) of this passage, Jesus gave each of us four commands:
1. Love your enemies.
2. Bless them that curse you.
3. Do good to those that hate you.
4. Pray for your persecutors.
These are four of over 1,050 commands in the New Testament to be obeyed by Christians. The universal impression in Christendom that there are 10 commandments to obey is far from the truth. (Dake's Study Notes to the Book of Matthew) Revenge should not enter our minds, as Deuteronomy reminds us that God has said, "Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.' For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free. (Deuteronomy 32:35-36) Josh Billings (Pen Name of Henry Wheeler Shaw: Famous writer and lecturer in the United States during the latter half of the 19th century) wrote, "There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness."
Let's look more closely at the call for us to forgive, love, bless, do good, and pray for our oppressors/persecutors. The first of the four commands in Matthew 5:44 is to love our enemies. Francois de la Rochefoucauld rightly wrote that we pardon in the degree that we love. Perhaps, then, our forgiveness toward our enemies results from our love for them, as ignorant as they are of what they are doing. (Luke 23:34) But perhaps forgiveness does more for us, than show our Christlike love for our enemies. Ronald Reagan's attitude after the 1981 attempt on his life made an impression on his daughter, Patti Davis: "The following day my father said he knew his physical healing was directly dependent on his ability to forgive John Hinckley. By showing me that forgiveness is the key to everything, including physical health and healing, he gave me an example of Christlike thinking." Forgiving our abusers as Christ Himself did helps bring healing in emotions, physical health, spiritual health, psychological health, and more.
Remember, too, that the only petition in the Lord’s prayer that has a condition attached is the one on forgiveness ("just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us"). Jean Paul Richter (German, student of theology) responded to our prayer for God's forgiveness, saying "Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another." In His Beatitudes, Jesus called forgivers peacemakers--and called them blessed. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:9-12) St. Francis of Assisi wrote his famous prayer, in which he asks the Lord, "where there is injury, let me sow pardon." Later in his prayer, Francis affirmed that it is in pardoning that we ourselves are pardoned. (Matthew 6:14-15)
In the opening to this devotional, Maria states that she finds it difficult to forgive. She remains bitter against those responsible for killing her mother and father. "I still don't know whether I can forgive them or not because they have killed my parents. I still doubt about it." Henry Ward Beecher (American Congregationalist clergyman) stated that those who say they can forgive but not forget what has been done to them, is only another way of saying, "I will not forgive." Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note--torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one." Or, described a different way, forgiveness should be like burning the mortgage--it's gone and forgotten. Never does the human soul become so strong as when it dares to forgive an injury. One non-Christian said, "What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me." (Marghanita Laski, secular humanist and novelist, before her death in 1988). Injury leads one to focus on the hurt; Jesus asks us to focus on moving beyond the hurt to experience the healing that forgiveness brings. So, He asks us to love, bless, do good towards, and pray for our attackers, our abusers, our oppressors, our enemies. Forgiveness comes from within love, and provides a positive and stable base for blessing, doing good for, and praying for those who do us harm. In these may we find healing for our hurt—from the Divine Physician.