Editorial: September 2008
Priyanka Gandhi visited the Vellore Jail on March 19, 2008, seventeen years after her father Rajiv Gandhi was blown to bits by a suicide bomber in Tamil Nadu, to meet Nalini Sriharan, one of the conspirators of her father’s assassination. “It was a very personal visit and completely on my own initiative,” she clarified. “It was my own way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced,” Priyanka said. Her brother Rahul remarked: “We don’t carry anger, we don’t carry hatred.” It was at the intervention of their mother Sonia Gandhi that Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Sonia had said that she did not want Nalini's daughter to be orphaned.
Some have dismissed Priyanka's meeting with Nalini as yet another gimmick from the Nehru-Gandhi family; others sympathise with a daughter still trying to come to terms with her father's brutal death.
The healing experienced by Priyanka after her visit to the prison is only one of the many such heart-rending true stories. Over 15 years ago, Rani Maria, a Catholic nun, was murdered in broad daylight while travelling on a bus in Madhya Pradesh. The Court found Samunder Singh guilty of Maria's murder and sentenced him for life. Rani's sister, Selmi, also a nun, was pained to see her sister's murderer suffer in jail. She contacted Singh in jail and tried to assure him that she and her family had forgiven him. She told him of her conviction that her sister Rani, if alive, would have liked to offer him Jesus' forgiveness. Singh was stunned and could not believe the words. Singh had already realised his blunder. His peace was completely shattered till he heard the words of forgiveness from Selmi. "How can I believe that you have really forgiven me?," enquired Singh. Selmi realised that Singh is looking for a symbol. She gently took hold of Singh's arms that had stabbed Rani many times and tied a rakhi. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Selmi's mother, Elizabeth, had made peace with Singh already. "I would like to kiss Singh's two hands. After all, they carry the blood stains of my daughter," she said. A few days later, Elizabeth also visited Singh in Indore Jail.
Pope John Paul II visited an Italian prison, on recovering from the bullet injuries, and met Mehmet Ali Agca, the convicted Turkish man, who had shot and seriously wounded him in May 1981. They conversed for 20 minutes- and the Pope forgave him for the assassination attempt. A few weeks after the meeting, Time magazine described the event as follows: "The meaning of John Paul's forgiveness was profoundly Christian. He embraced his enemy and pardoned him." The Pope himself followed the meeting with a sermon. He said, "Violence is evil. Violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems. Violence is unworthy of man..." It was reported that Agca wanted to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul.
Priyanka was paraphrasing exactly that thought when she said, "I don't believe in anger, hatred and violence, and I refuse to allow it to overpower my life." It is only a powerful emotion that would have driven Priyanka to look into the face of a member of the assassination squad that killed her father. Great inner strength is required to feel compassion for the guilty. It was a magnificent act in this age of mediocrity, when many propagate an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth philosophy and equate reconciliation with weakness. Of course, many are stumped by this response. Quite naturally they announced, "The visit of Priyanka was incomprehensible and beyond our understanding."
On January 23, 1999 Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip (11) and Timothy (7), were ambushed by a frenzied mob with flaming torches and burnt alive in Manoharpur, Orissa. Gladys Staines said: "I have only one message for the people of India. I am not bitter. Neither am I angry. I can forgive their (killers') deeds. Only Jesus can forgive their sins....Let us burn hatred and spread the flame of Christ's love." The dignity with which she conducted herself speaks volumes for the values inculcated in her. She showed that forgiveness is love in action. Gladys prayed, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."
Mayuresh Pokhrankar, 29, a biker, miraculously survived a fall from a Mumbai flyover. He fell nearly 50 feet on to the road. A 10-foot-long iron pipe from a hawker’s cart went through his neck and exited from his belly. His right leg was fractured. He has several wounds all over his body. He recoils in pain even while making small movements. “The pain is immense, especially in my right leg, and I have difficulty breathing as well,” he said. “When he emerged from the trauma, he held nothing against Bilal Khan, 24, whose speeding car hit him on May 18, 2008 and threw him off the bike. Speaking for the first time after the pipe was removed from his body, Pokhrankar told: “I have told my family not to harass the driver of the car, but to forgive him. The accident was destined to happen. He had no control over the vehicle; he did not do it on purpose. He is a nice fellow who touched my father’s feet when he came to see me in hospital. He could have chosen not to come here once he got bail.”
These acts of reconciliation were part of a much longer tradition of forgiveness and reconciliation, laid down by Jesus Christ. He preached: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also."
These acts of forgiveness remind us of the words of Christ on the Cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Stephen the first martyr forgave those who stoned him to death.
Reconciliation is unique to the Christian faith. Grudges have no place in the body of Christ. They lead to anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive words and lying.
No book of religion other than the Bible teaches that God forgives sin completely. The Bible teaches: "Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you"(Eph.4:32).God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. "I will heal their waywardness, I will love them freely" (Hos.14:4). "Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more"(Heb.10:17). The initiative for this forgiveness is with God (Col.2:13). It is a ready forgiveness, as is demonstrated in the parable of the Two Sons (Lk. 15:11-32).
No limitations are prescribed to the forgiveness of one's fellows. It is "seven times in a day" (Lk.17:4). Seven offences in one day would bring the affected person to the point of exasperation. Rabbinic teaching, based on Amos 1:3, demanded only three. Jesus however lifted the matter beyond the realm of human computation by requiring seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22). Both these signify limitlessness. He who counts the times knows nothing of the true spirit of forgiveness. It is an attitude of mind, even before the offending party requests forgiveness, as is implied by the words of Jesus “unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt.18:35). The believer must follow the example of his Lord (Col. 3:12, 13). A readiness to make allowance for the weakness of others and to forgive in cases of just complaints is possible only on the strength of Christ’s own example. There is an echo here of the Lord’s Prayer in the close link between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. "Only one petition in the Lord's prayer has any condition attached to it. It is the petition for forgiveness," said Sir William Temple.
Repentance is necessary for us to receive forgiveness (Lk. 17:3-4). Shedding of blood (Heb.9:22) until no life is left (Lev.17:11) is a pre-requisite for the holy God to extend forgiveness. Christ’s blood was shed on the Cross for our forgiveness.
The unforgiving man cannot be in a position of forgiveness before God. The man forgiven by God through what Christ has done will give, in his treatment of others, unmistakable evidence of His gratitude to and dependence upon Him.
Forgiveness is something to be received with gratitude and regarded with awe and wonder. Sin merits punishment. Pardon is astounding grace. The Psalmist says, “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psa. 130:4).
Forgiveness is rooted in the nature of gracious God. Forgiveness is an act of sheer grace. “He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins” (1 Jn.1:9). He does not keep an account of past sins, no matter how grievous they have been. “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom.8:1). But His forgiveness is not indiscriminate. He will by no means clear the guilty. On our side, there is the need for repentance, if we are to be forgiven. Impenitent men who go on their wicked way are not forgiven. When He forgives, the sins are dealt with thoroughly. God sees them no more. Micah speaks of God casting sins “into the depths of the sea” (Mic.7:19).
"Nothing in this lost world bears the impress of the Son of God so surely as for forgiveness." A readiness to forgive others is indication that we have truly received forgiveness. The repentance should be whole-hearted. Christ insists on this, as in His parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23-35). "Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude," said Martin Luther King Jr.
"It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the Cross of my Lord." Faith and repentance are not to be thought of as merits whereby we deserve forgiveness. Rather, they are the means whereby we appropriate the grace of God. When we extend mercy and forgiveness, we enjoy glorious freedom. "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it," said Mark Twain.
Joseph was a young man who was horribly mistreated by his brothers. When his father asked him to check on the welfare of his brothers, he obeyed his father’s commands, despite his knowing that his brothers hated him. His brothers plotted against him “to put him to death” before selling him to slavery. Joseph was sold to Midianite traders, who sold him to Potiphar, an Officer of Pharaoh. When the brothers finally landed before Joseph, twenty two years after they betrayed him, he looked beyond to see the hand of God, instead of harbouring bitterness or returning hatred. He forgave them unconditionally, even when they did not show any remorse. Though they were humble before Joseph, they never asked forgiveness from him. Joseph chose to see the past from God’s point of view. He recognised that God was working His good in Joseph’s life through the very evil that his brothers had done to him. He believed that God had a plan for his life. He looked ahead and broke the power of the past.
Trust God to deal with your offenders. If you choose to walk His way of forgiveness, you will be healthier in soul and body. "Forgiveness is a funny thing- it warms the heart and cools the sting." It is crucial that you forgive those who treat you unjustly, whether or not they repent, and regardless of how you feel. It is easy to respond wrongly when you live by your feelings.
During the tenure of General Colin Powel as the US Secretary of State, he discovered that a speech he made at the United Nations was based partly on wrong information. This was a blot on his record. “I am disappointed,” he said. “I’m sorry it happened and wish those who knew better had spoken up at the time, but there isn’t anything else I can say about it.” Instead of being chained by the past, he chose to “focus on the front windshield and not the rearview mirror” of life. While the past remains part of our lives, it does not have to determine your future.
CS Lewis said: "We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practise it." It is not easy for any one to say “let bygones be bygones.” But it is possible, with the help of the Holy Spirit.