A friend gave a very thoughtful response to last week’s topic of forgiveness. He has been taught, and believes, we always suffer in some regard when we truly forgive. We suffer because we give up the right to hurt back when we have been hurt. The more we hurt, the more we give up by not hurting back.
With the remembrances of 9/11 fresh on my mind I thought about his comment with regard to two major tragedies our nation has endured: 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing.
9/11: Forgiving Bin Laden
On September 11, 2001 I was in my office preparing for class. A student poked his head in and asked; are we still having class?
I asked; what do you mean? He proceeded to tell about a trade tower being hit. I got to a TV in time to see the second plane crash into the second tower. I went to class and the only thing I can remember is telling them; “Your lives will never be the same.” I still believe that to be true.
Jeny could not get home that weekend from Las Cruces, New Mexico and was worried about it. I reminded her that during WWII my dad was not able to get home from the Philippines for three years, and her dad was reported dead before he was released as a German POW. She changed her context and we did survive one week apart before transportation got back to normal.
9/11 was a horrific event. In big, big, really big reprehensible crimes, how do I forgive? Some would say don’t forgive such evil people. It is not an easy issue for me.
Osama Bin Laden was responsible for one of the more reprehensible crimes in our history. Interestingly, I do not have too much trouble with forgiveness in his case, partly because he was so bad. I am confident in God’s judgment. Truly evil people will get what is coming to them, and my judgment about them adds very little. I am glad when he suffered consequences, but I did not have to suffer much to forgive him.
Oklahoma City: Forgiving McVay
During our last trip to the Midwest, we met friends in Junction City Kansas for lunch. Then we drove through Herington Kansas before spending the night in Wichita. The next morning, we drove to Oklahoma City to see my cousin and 90+ year-old aunt.
Later it dawned on me; we had followed the same route Tim McVay followed on his way to bombing the Murrah building in 1995. He rented a truck in Junction City, traveled to Herington, where Tim Nichols lived and then onto Oklahoma City.
Over 400 people died in the bombing. Certainly not as many as 9/11. But the tragedy occurred by the hands of McVay and Nichols, both Midwesterners, in an area very close to my hometown. The tragedy was more personal to me than New York City.
The tragedy became even more personal when I learned my cousin’s husband went to the site right after the bomb exploded. He worked triage until they started to bring out little children. That was too much.
When I thought about the situation, I realized I had a harder time forgiving McVay than Bin Laden. I was closer to the Oklahoma situation. I was more invested in Oklahoma than NYC. Intellectually, I realize 9/11 was more devastating than Oklahoma, but I was closer to the Oklahoma tragedy. I had more to suffer from the Oklahoma tragedy. I am sure if I lost someone in 9/11, I would have a harder time forgiving Bin Laden.
The Lesson for me
The lesson I learn from this is to be highly vigilant in my forgiveness of my closest loved ones. The closer the person, the more I suffer from their transgressions (real or perceived). In some ways this makes it harder to forgive. I need to be very careful to forgive rather than carry forward hard feelings.
Two scriptures support the view. 1st Corinthians 13 is the famous chapter on love. In the chapter one important aspect of love is not to keep account of evil. In Ephesians 4:26 we are told be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on anger.
Both verses encourage me to forgive, reconcile and not keep account of wrongs. When people I am closest to make mistakes, I may suffer deeply from those mistakes. Therefore, I believe I suffer more in forgiving them. But forgive them I must. I appreciate the reminder for how I should relate to the people I love the most.
Final Notes on Forgiveness
A related serious issue — does forgiveness imply mistakes should not have consequences? I would argue no. People who make mistakes should face consequences. I think many of the problems in our world today occur because too many children are raised without meaningful consequences for inappropriate behavior. Also, we have too many corporate executives and white-collar criminals who do not suffer serious consequences for bad management or crimes.
A related issue is — Can we forgive and still administer punishment as a consequence? I believe we can administer punishment and justice without revenge. I do not believe it is easy, but it can and should be done.
Finally, should the consequences for mistakes always be punishment? Should we have more consequences that involve learning from the mistakes rather than punishment? In my opinion, reconciliation, and rehabilitation and are worthwhile consequences for many mistakes.
I am having fun and keep learning from my interactions with friends.
I invite your views about forgiveness of very evil people responsible for big tragedies and the role of suffering in forgiveness.