Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The weak can never forgive, forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." We need more forgiveness in our world, but in order to find it, we need stronger people.
Retired Admiral William H. McRaven in his book, "The Hero Code," tells a story about forgiveness that brought tears to my eyes. It involved a story about two sons, a daughter, and two other women who were killed in Afghanistan during a tragic "friendly" confrontation with some American soldiers. The soldiers had surrounded a village hoping to capture a local Taliban leader, but the two sons on a roof thought the Americans were Taliban and opened fire on them. The result was five people killed needlessly.
It was Admiral McRaven's job to apologize to the old man who had lost his sons and daughter, and it wasn't easy. It was a gut-wrenching tragedy, and he had no idea how to ask for forgiveness from this deeply grieving father. Obviously, he attempted to be genuine and express his heartfelt apology and regret, but what could he say?
When he asked his Afghan counterpart, General Salam, how he could handle this impossible task, he replied very calmly, "The father will forgive you."
"How is that possible?" asked McRaven.
And Salam replied, "It is what Allah would want."
"Yes, but not all Muslims are forgiving, a reference to the Al Qaeda and Taliban."
Salam just smiled, and said, "I know this village. They are good people. Good Muslims. The father will forgive you. The Quran teaches us the value of mercy. The father will forgive you because it will take away his burden, not the burden of his loss, but the burden of his hatred and anger."
And, this deeply grieving father, a man who had just lost his most precious possessions, his family, did indeed forgive him. He said simply, "We will not keep anything in our heart against you."
Wow! Recognizing the agony of what was going on in this exchange, it touched my heart and gave me a whole different perspective on forgiveness.
How many mistakes have been made during our lives? How many times have we thought we were right only to discover we were wrong? How many times have people wronged us, and we expressed our frustration and anger? How many times have our politicians really messed up, and we just labeled them "stupid"?
On the other hand, how many times have we actually confessed to our failures, and asked for forgiveness? And, how many times have we forgiven those who have hurt us?
Do you remember Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina? Among all of the media's condemnation and the anger most of us felt, did you hear the families of the victims who each took a turn forgiving Roof for his heinous and incomprehensible crime?
"I forgive you and have mercy on your soul," they said.
It did not eliminate the tremendous burden of their loss, but it eliminated the anger and hatred they must have been feeling.
G.K. Chesterton, the great English writer, philosopher, and theologian, once wrote, "To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable."
Dylann Roof's actions were unpardonable, but the families would not become Roof's accomplices in this vile act of hatred. They were the victors, not the victims; they were heroes.
People today are quick to anger and feel that any offensive act immediately needs a strong rebuke. It's easier to "storm the hill, fight the fire, and to stop a madman with a gun" than it is to forgive. We want more than anything to harness the outrage, feel the power of injustice, and the fury of discontent, so we can lash out against the offender, or at least someone, and feel justified. We hope it will soothe our souls, but it will not.
We have just come through the week of passion before Easter, so it is easy to remember all of the injustices and painful things they did to Jesus which culminated in placing him upon a cruel cross to watch him die in agony. And, as Jesus hung upon the cross, one of his last utterances was one that shocked the known world. He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
The Hero Code says: "No matter how great or small the offense against me, I will try to forgive. I will be the victor, not the victim." Alexander Pope wrote in a poem many years ago, "To err is human; to forgive is divine."
Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 27 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches, USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.