Story: Author Phillip Yancy in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, relates a story about an IRA bomb that was exploded in 1987 in a small town west of Belfast in which eleven people died and sixty-three others were wounded. One of those killed was Marie Wilson, the twenty-one year old daughter of Gordon Wilson. Both were buried under five feet of concrete and brick. Marie’s last words as she was grasping her father’s hand were, “Daddy, I love you very much.”
What got more publicity than the bombing itself was Gordon Wilson’s subsequent words of forgiveness. Speaking from his hospital bed, Wilson said, “I have lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge. Bitter talk is not going to bring Marie Wilson back to life. I shall pray, tonight and every night, that God will forgive them.”
After recovering, Wilson led a crusade for Protestant-Catholic reconciliation. He met with the IRA, personally forgave them, and asked that they lay down their arms. “When he died in 1995, the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland and all of Great Britain honored this ordinary Christian citizen for his uncommon spirit of grace and forgiveness,” Yancy reported.
Jesus’ Words: In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs us to ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive others. As further emphasis, he goes on to say, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15) When Peter asks how many times we should forgive, Jesus says not seven times, but seventy-seven times. He then shares the parable of the unmerciful servant who after having his debt forgiven by his master did not do the same with a fellow servant. Finally, we have Jesus’ unforgettable words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Getting Even: Without God’s grace, our nature is not to forgive. We seek revenge for wrongs committed against us, “an eye for an eye.” But unforgiveness is like a cancer. It gives rise to anger and resentment, robbing us of our peace and affecting us as negatively as the original wrong that was committed against us. This effect applies to groups, tribes and nations as well as individuals, and has led to an ever ending cycle of violence throughout human history.
Another Story: Many years ago a friend and I joined the music group playing our guitars for a Saturday evening mass at our parish. After a couple of months we were abruptly asked to leave without any explanation. We were naturally angered by this summary dismissal. We brooded for several months. At a Christmas Eve mass during the sign of peace, I walked over to the music group and offered the sign of peace to the leader, which led to an embrace. The leader and I have been close friends ever since. My friend continued to brood. That was 40 years ago.
Are you brooding over a past hurt or wrong that God wants you to forgive?