In a world filled with unspeakable violence and unreasonable prejudice, forgiveness may be the most important thing we can teach our young people. We are so easily offended and so quick to seek revenge. Words escalate into bitter hatred and mob mentality, and then acts of brutal cruelty follow.
I have just finished reading two books about the Rwandan genocide that ravaged the people of that country just twenty years ago. And in two short weeks, I will visit that country and meet some of its people. Survivors now reconciling with those who murdered their friends and families. When reading about these things, two ideas push themselves forward. First: How inhumanly cruel people can be. Second: How only God helps people forgive and find new life.
We all know that forgiveness is the reason Jesus came willingly to die for us. Jesus, God incarnate, showed us what forgiveness looks like. He forgave Zaccheas. He forgave the sins of the paralytic. He forgave Peter for denying him. He forgave even his torturing killers. Peter asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother?” and Jesus answered “Seventy times seven.” (Matthew 12: 21-22)
And it is still very hard to do on an individual basis. Especially when injustice seems so powerful and forgiveness seems so weak.
“There is power in forgiveness.” I heard this man Andrew describing the new friendship he has built with his childhood friend, Callixte, after the friend had turned against his family during the Rwandan genocide.
“Forgiveness is all I have to give.” This is what Immaculee Ilibagiza said to the man who led the gang murder of her brother and mother and who had taunted her while she hid in a tiny bathroom.
If these individuals can forgive such atrocities, looking into the eyes that looked on them with murderous intent, and still offer forgiveness, what can possibly stand in the way of peace?
Teens who do not learn the power of forgiveness will grow up afraid and vengeful. How can we help them?
This should be a challenge for every parent and leader. Especially when it is hard, let us show teens how with God’s help, we can simply forgive, thereby releasing both ourselves and the offender. This is not easy for me. I have a weakness for judgment and have a hard time forgetting. But when I focus on others who have forgiven the unforgivable, I am inspired to do the same.
We talked about some of Jesus’ memorable forgiveness stories. Paul, too, forgave his tormentors, like the Philippian jailer, and the ones who persecuted him in every city. And what about Joseph, who famously forgave his brothers after they sold him to a passing Midianite caravan and told Jacob that Joseph was dead.
God is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) By simply asking God to help them forgive, teens will begin to unleash the amazing power of God to fill our hearts with love. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that their action was right, or good, or just. It just means that you don’t hold on to the hurt and judgment that you placed between you and the other person. If we always wait for the other person to apologize, we may sink into bitterness, and become even more offended.
In this new year, let’s all strive to forgive more and show others how to forgive as well. God wants to fill us with love and mercy every day. This is the way that leads to peace.