The world was stunned when an Amish community in Pennsylvania was devastated by an attack on their school children, killing some and seriously injuring others. Then the world was stunned again when this community chose to forgive the perpetrator of that heinous crime. How could they forgive the man who attacked their children in this horrible manner?
How could these families reach out to the wife and children of that murderer? The shock waves of that forgiveness reverberated around the world. That’s powerful stuff.One of the hardest things to do is to forgive someone who has wronged us, because our natural tendency is to seek retribution or revenge. When we suffer, we want those who have caused us pain to suffer as well. Our gut reaction is to fight back, to make people pay for what they have done to us. This is often the basis of broken relationships, fights, murders and even wars. However, we need to recognize that there is tremendous power in forgiveness.
I recently saw a news report of two men who were visiting communities talking about the dangers of drunk driving. One was a father whose son was killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver, and the other man was that drunk driver. The father said he had forgiven the driver and now they were working together to try and prevent future accidents. Forgiveness is powerful stuff.
In his book, Secret Believers, Brother Andrew writes about a Christian community in Pakistan in 1997 that faced a serious crisis. Someone tossed a crumpled scrap of paper containing an anti-Islamic slur into a mosque during evening prayers. That incident was the spark that ignited mob action against the local Christians. No one saw who did it, but immediately the word went out that it must have been the Christians.
Muslim fundamentalists had been looking for an opportunity to get rid of the Christians in the area and here was their chance. They organized mobs that went on a rampage, destroying any and all properties belonging to Christians in a certain area. They were told: “Don’t kill the people, just destroy everything they have so they will leave. Teach them a lesson.” In one night over 1,000 homes and all the related property—cars and bicycles, cattle, fruit trees, clothes and furniture—was destroyed. Their school was also destroyed. The devastation was total.
Two months later a town meeting was held in a tent near the devastated area to discuss the future of the community. Approximately 500 local people were there. Religious and government leaders from other parts of the country were also there. Soldiers stood guard to make sure there was no further violence.
Brother Andrew was asked to bring a message from the Bible to those assembled in order to help them in their planning. He reminded them of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12a).
He then talked about Jesus’ message of forgiveness: “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15). Brother Andrew concluded by saying, “We must forgive those who did this to us.” Many of the Muslims present were astonished at this teaching. One high official even asked for a copy of that message. Forgiveness is powerful stuff.
After some discussion, the group decided that they would accept his teaching. They decided to replace the burned-out school with a new one and add a community library. Both facilities would be open to Christians and Muslims alike. The children had lost everything in the rampage, so they decided they would provide new backpacks and school supplies for all of them, both Christian and Muslim, so they could continue their education. The funds for these projects came from Christians around the world who wanted to help.
In a ceremony several months later 1,300 children were each given a new backpack and some school supplies. In a second event, witnessed by the entire village, the new school-library-community center was dedicated.
Brother Andrew is convinced that had the Christians sought revenge instead of forgiveness, there would have been all-out war in the area. All of the Christians, including those in neighboring villages, would have had to flee for their lives and lose everything. Instead they chose to forgive. Now, 10 years later Christians live in peace in their re-built village. The community center still stands as a monument to the power of forgiveness. That’s powerful stuff.
In Christ’s upside-down kingdom we are told not to seek revenge. Instead, we are admonished to forgive. And as I read my Bible I believe forgiveness is not optional. It’s a requirement. And that’s powerful stuff.