For a few years before I had my own experience with forgiveness, the word used to pop into my head and I’d wonder what to do with it. Forgiveness? What’s it got to do with me? What does it even mean?
Being in this sensitised state, incidents of forgiveness used to leap out at me and there were two that seemed incredible.
Both were reported in the media around the same time, it must be about eight or nine years ago, and I have the clippings in my files somewhere. I could search them out and give you every dotted i and crossed t but what matters is the general impression they made on me.
The first concerned an incident that happened here in Melbourne involving a young man and a young woman. I have the impression it was the young woman who was the perpetrator, though it may tell you something about what subsequently happened that I might have the roles reversed.
The young woman was driving her car, and texting at the same time, when she had an accident and the driver of the other car, the young man, was killed. She was charged and taken to court. What happened with the verdict escapes me. What I remember, and what struck everyone, was the response of the young man’s parents. They spoke in the media about their forgiveness of the young woman. Without qualification or demur, they forgave her for causing their son’s death and expressed compassion and concern for her and her family.
The second story concerned an elderly Jewish woman who had lost her family in the Holocaust and been experimented on in one of the death camps. She and her sister were identical twins, around the age of 6 or 7, when they were taken to the camp. There they were separated out for special attention by Dr Joseph Mengele, who conducted experiments on identical twins and for some time this happened to the woman and her sister. I do not remember what happened to her sister, whether she survived, but the woman herself obviously did and went on to do something extraordinary.
Some years later, (perhaps it was at Nuremberg?), she saw her torturer or someone close to him, and she told him or wrote to him of her forgiveness for what had been done to her and her sister. I forget her words. I remember how she was being.
That human beings are capable of such forgiveness is the remarkable, astounding fact about who we are. It is the supreme creative, transformative act, and it is within human being, within us! There is where our magnificence, our stupendousness lies. There is where God lies and no other place.
At this moment in my life, as I think about the Easter story, what Jesus says on the cross leaps out at me as the central point of the story,
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
This “forgive them”, to the point of death, is the ultimate act of God made man, of God-made man, of God, of human being.
You want “proof” of the existence of God? Gaze on it in yourself.
Image: Christ carrying the cross by Giorgione
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