Justice and Forgiveness

” Father forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”

by Kurt Ingram

Perhaps the most moving words of forgiveness I have ever heard came from the mother of a murdered son during the Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African American boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1965 by white townsmen angered that the boy had spoken with a white woman.  Till was thrown into a river, where his bloated body was discovered three days later.  Our nation has had a lot of dark moments; there are many things we have yet to repent of.  But this evil that has permeated our nation in the form of Racism may be the worst.

Following his murder, Till’s mother insisted on having an open casket at the memorial service, despite being advised by the authorities to keep it closed.  No one wanted this boy to be a Martyr; no one wanted him to stoke the fires of revolution that were burning.  But his mother was courageous beyond imagination.

She said, “No, this is my only baby … I want the world to see.” And she stepped to a lectern and looked over at her baby, his head was five times the size of his ordinary head. She looked at the cameras and she said, “I don’t have a minute to hate.  I will pursue justice for the rest of my life.”  Later she said, “I would rather be defeated at this moment with my moral integrity than win and be like those who have murdered my baby.”

I get angry at this story, and the millions others like it.  The story of those with power and privilege inflicting evil and violence on those who seem to them to be “other.”  I don’t want to forgive; I want them to have the tables turned on them.  It’s kind of like reading the crucifixion story and always holding out hope that maybe this time Jesus will crush the wrongdoers and be vindicated by what I see as justice.

But my view of justice is bent, and the Jesus I follow invites me not to pursue that kind of justice.  We are called to be a forgiven people so that we can live out the good news that God has forgiven the whole world.  I pray that God would forgive me as I forgive others, and I pray that this forgiveness would look like that of Till’s mother.  A forgiveness that holds out the hope of Justice, that boldly declares the truth, and yet has no room for hate.  I kind of think that is the type of forgiveness we see poured out from the cross.

Questions:

–  Could you say the words of this mother if you were in the same situation?

–  How is the way you forgive others connected to the way God forgives you?

*I got this story from Dr. Cornell West

 

Help Me Forgive

“Forgive us our debts as we have also have forgiven our debtors”

by Ruth Sturdivant

I hear these words and think do I really want our Father in heaven to forgive me the way I forgive others?  Do we as a people want him to forgive us that way?  I think it is human nature to strike back when hurt.  Look at a small toddler who gets hit by another child.  They hit back.  As adults, we may not strike physically, but our first reaction is to get even.  As the Bible says, eye for and eye.  But what does that get us?  Mahatma Ghandi said “If we return eye for eye, every one in the world will soon be blind”.  Holding grudges and getting even only serves to stop growth dead in its tracks and poisons our soul.  Believe I know; I held a grudge against a man for 55 years.

From before I can remember until I was 18 years old, I was sexually molested by the one person put in this world by God to protect me.  My own father would take my mother to the grocery store and then come back to house to molest me.  I can’t imagine the excuse that he gave my mother.  She acted completely oblivious to what was going on even when I asked her can a person get pregnant from only one time.  Never once did she asked me, a sixth grader, why I would ask such a question.  I feared my father, once he smacked me giving me a bloody nose simply because I accidentally hit my sister in the nose doing the same.

When I was 18, I married the first man to ask.  Not feeling I could marry him without telling my story, I told him I had been molested.  He went directly to my mother and told her who then confronted my father.  Imagine having your new husband be told that you would get in the bed with anyone and this said right in front of you.  That one statement did the most damage to my self esteem and probably my marriages.  What happen to me all those years made me feel dirty and ugly.  When I would have conversations with my husband, I wouldn’t look at him.  I was ugly so why would anyone want to look at me.  I was tainted goods to my former husband and I put up with a lot of verbal abuse from him.  I would not like sex probably because of my father’s comment and truth be known it did for awhile become a self filling prophecy.

Not until a coworker told me a woman could be the most beautiful looking person in the world and still be ugly that I realize that I may not be the prettiest woman in the world but I am certainly not the ugliest.  But still I held a grudge against my dad even going so far as to say I had no dad.  Even when my second husband died and the leader of the grief group I attended said I had to forgive my dad, I still couldn’t forgive him.  Not until Bob Marvel, pastor at Cornwall Church, was preaching sermons on the Lord’s Prayer that I suddenly understood why my dad could do such a thing.  It suddenly occurred to me that my father may not have been the best dad but he certainly wasn’t the worst.

It has taken me a long time to be able to accept compliments.  I now know that I don’t have to settle when it comes to relationships.  People look at a picture of me when I was five years old and say “you were a cute kid”.  My first reaction now is I am still cute!

Questions:

– What is the hardest thing in your life story to forgive someone for?

– How has forgiveness been connected with healing in your life?