Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Forgiveness for the Unrepentant

A most moving post from Fr Blake on the experience of a Rwandan sister’s encounter with the killer of her family, and the power of goodness released by his repentance and her forgiveness.

There is a related question, which seems really intractable:  how to obey the Lord’s commandment to forgive, when faced, not with a plea for forgiveness, but with an apparent lack of repentance.

Many of us will remember Gordon Wilson, the wonderful man who, after holding hands with his dying daughter Marie as they lay beneath the rubble after the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen in 1987, said that he bore no grudge against the Irish republicans who had killed his daughter together with ten others, on that appalling day.

It was an extraordinary thing that he should have forgiven them, at a time when the perpetrators – apart from some evidence that they realised they had made a tactical mistake – gave no indication at all that they repented of the evil they had committed, or even that they regarded it as a moral evil, or were conscious in any way of having committed a grave sin. 

Some have said that Mr Wilson’s words planted the seeds of what became, many years later, the cease-fire and the subsequent power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland.  I don’t know about that; it seems to be stretching things rather too far.  But the fact is that he made this gratuitous gesture of goodness, and, as it were, into the void.

This is the nub of it, and the conundrum: we must forgive; but unless the wrongdoer repents, he cannot be forgiven.  We must forgive; but what if the sinner is perfectly content with what he has done?   Surely the forgiveness will not “take”?  It is as though he has coated his soul in wax; the forgiveness will slide off him; nothing will sink in.  What to do?

The victim - and the victim’s loved ones are victims too - will surely suffer, both spiritually and psychologically, if they cannot find an outlet, a way through.  Justice must be done, whether in this world or the next.  At the same time, forgiveness must be there, at the ready, to heal the sinner as soon as he repents.  And yet it may never be known in this life who was responsible for the evil, let alone what has become of him.  How to offer forgiveness, how to send it out into the darkness, while being tormented by the suspicion that the evildoer simply does not care?

May I suggest the following:  that we give our forgiveness into the hands of God, asking Him to bestow it for us, if and when the evildoer repents.  It will not be wasted; and it may help to soothe and heal the hearts of the victims.  Surely no harm can come from this; I think it is worth a try.

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