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As difficult as it might seem, forgiveness still divine option


Brave gesture: Vincent Uzomah forgave the teenage boy who attacked him

Brave gesture: Vincent Uzomah forgave the teenage boy who attacked him

Brave gesture: Vincent Uzomah forgave the teenage boy who attacked him

This week Vincent Uzomah, a practising Christian, forgave a boy of 14 who was sentenced for stabbing him, though he said that the law should run its course.

Following another court case, John Buckley, the father of the Cork girl brutally murdered by Alexander Pacteau, described Karen's murderer as "truly evil" and expressed the hope that he would spend the rest of his life "behind bars".

Many people would identify with Mr Buckley, while others might find it difficult to understand Mr Uzomah's forgiveness.

It is not for us to pass judgment on either man, but rather to be thankful that we do not have to make such a decision.

There are noteworthy examples of victims of violence who forgive their attackers, including some of the families of the nine people killed by a lone gunman during a Bible study and prayer session at a Charleston church in June this year.

Forgiveness is one of the basic tenets of the Christian faith, and when we recite the Lord's Prayer we ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us".

These are daunting words, and forgiveness remains one of the biggest challenges facing every believer, and every non-believer as well.

Some Christians seem to be able to come to terms with this challenge more readily than others, but those who find it difficult to forgive should not be condemned out of hand. We are all human.

For many people, the natural reaction is not to turn the other cheek, but to hit back at those who have deeply hurt them. In many cases these hurts last for a lifetime, and some people go to their grave without being able to forgive.

One of the greatest Christians I have known told me in his old age: "I can safely say that I have rebuilt all the bridges I have broken in my lifetime."

When I told this story to another deeply Christian man he said: "Your friend was fortunate. There are some bridges that may not ever be repaired, partly because the quarrel or hurt has lasted much too long."

The challenge of forgiveness applies to whole communities, as well as individuals, which we know only too well in Northern Ireland.

Last Sunday the courageous and firm action of the PSNI prevented a major clash in the centre of Belfast when they stopped a march of republicans who were out to cause offence, while they were awaited by groups of loyalists who were only too willing to be offended.

One of the finest men I have known was the late Senator Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie was killed by the Provisional IRA bomb at Enniskillen.

I talked to him in depth when I was writing a book on Marie, and he told me that he could not initially forgive her murderers, but that he bore them no ill-will, and that he prayed for them every night. I believed him, without question.

So if you find that you cannot forgive others, or even forgive yourself for something bad in your past, you should try at least not to bear ill-will to others, or to yourself.

In time, with God's grace, that lack of ill-will might grow slowly into a sense of forgiveness and peace, which we all need in the depths of our being.

From that forgiveness will come a sense of release, and ultimately of relief.

It's not easy, but if you remain unforgiving you may end up hurting only yourself.

Belfast Telegraph