At a meeting this morning I heard a moving conversation about forgiveness. The Red Ecuménica de Colombia (Ecumenical Network) has been working toward forgiveness as a way to strengthen the fabric of society, and this morning they recounted a story that a Catholic priest shared during Holy Week.
While at the cemetery, the priest had seen a woman arrive with her young daughter, who was holding two bouquets of flowers. They went to one of the graves and wept and prayed and left one bunch of flowers there. Then they went to another grave and did the same. As they were leaving, the priest asked the woman whose graves they had visited. She told him that the first was the grave of her husband who had been massacred. The second belonged to his killer. The priest was amazed and asked the woman why she would do this, and she replied, “I want the chains of vengeance and hatred to break. I want my daughter to know how to forgive.”
This example was hard to swallow for some of those gathered. Forgiveness isn’t easy, and it must not be forced, leaving hurt and bitterness festering inside. “Forgive and forget” is not the model to follow! The old man sitting beside me, a valued friend weathered by displacement and hard work under the sun, was willing to concede that one might forgive the person who killed a loved one with a bullet. But what about those who kill with chain saws, slicing precious bodies into pieces with brutal disregard?
Far too many Colombians are faced with this difficult task of learning how to forgive unimaginable atrocities. But forgiveness is an important part of personal healing, and will also be essential in turning Colombia’s vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle of reconciliation, as Ricardo Esquivia says. Justice does not turn a blind eye toward what is wrong, nor is it blinded by the need for revenge. The kind of justice we are taught in the Bible is something more mysterious and powerful than that, and some churches here are seeking ways to promote forgiveness, justice, and peace, ways to provide life-giving and prophetic spaces in the midst of violence.
No one I know of has a formula for how to forgive when the offense against human worth is inexpressibly great. And yet there are those examples of people who make a choice, like the woman who goes with her daughter to take flowers to the grave of her husband’s killer. People who say with their actions and attitudes, “I want the chains of vengeance and hatred to break. I want my daughter to know how to forgive.”