When we think about wellness, we generally think of fitness and nutrition. But true wellness is more; far more. It encompasses our emotions, attitudes, beliefs; our thoughts, ideas, opinions. It envelops mind, body and spirit. So, today, I want to visit a topic that many find difficult, yet one that is crucial to authentic wellness. FORGIVENESS.
We certainly want and eagerly seek forgiveness for our own shortcomings. But, extending such to others who offend us is not always easy. Shadowed with grey hues between justice, retribution, and penalty; seasoned with the emotions of hurt, pain, suffering; tainted with the flavors of bitterness and anger forgiveness can, plain and simply, be hard to offer. Still, it is mandatory if we truly want to live and love well. It is pertinent to the health of our total being. And it is possible even in the face of the vilest offenses. We must embrace forgiveness and I believe we must do so in a new, fresh manner than most of us understand. I’ll explain…
Last July I moved to South Africa. When I made the announcement, many in my family recalled the horrors and evils of apartheid and feared I would face a nation met with bitterness and revenge. I’m believed otherwise and I can say with complete honesty that I have met a nation filled with hope and love. Yes, challenges exist but I find them no less and no more than those faced in the states. And, while reading a book Adriaan was representing a few months back, Unconditional? by Brian Zahnd, I discovered why South Africa is a transformed nation and one living in democratic hope.
Apartheid was the extreme segregation of blacks and whites where in the white minority was given majority favour while the black majority was forcibly removed and relocated to allow for the expansion of “Whites Only” territory. Antiapartheid activists were arrested and typically beaten publicly. Many were jailed, some were tortured, many vanished. The predominant church, The Dutch Reformed Church of SA, assured the world that this was God’s will. The world was not so easily deceived, however. Eventually, opposition through economic sanctions combined with internal condemnation and activism brought this nightmare to an end and a new, democratic government was born.
One of those imprisoned was Nelson Mandela. After 27 years of hard labor, he was released in 1990. Having made an intentional decision to re-enter the world without bitterness, the prisoner of apartheid now became president of a new democracy with the full intention of pursuing reconciliation over retaliation for a nation he loved in spite of the suffering he had endured at its hands.
Common fear among the South African population as apartheid dismantled was retribution; a bloodbath of revenge. Mandela was determined to move forward in another manner. He would not accept the bloodbaths witnessed in post war Germany. He set forth to accomplish a peaceful transition from racism to democracy and he succeeded. How?
Nelson Mandela partnered with archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, collectively forming and administrating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The beauty of this commission was that anyone who confessed their crime before the commission could be granted complete amnesty. Unconfessed crimes would unquestionably be subject to the full authority of the law. Secondly, the nation and the world would hear the stories, the truth of what had been done in the apartheid regime. This gave truth the voice it had been denied. The sins were named and shamed. But, justice did not become revenge. It didn’t become retribution. It was not denied nor were the victims forgotten.
The Truth and Reconciliation commission was about forgiveness. It was about a way to give a nation a future beyond self destruction through revenge. As Brian Zahnd in UNconditional? states, The way of forgiveness does not forget the past, but through truth and reconciliation it finds a way beyond toxic memory. It is the way of restorative justice.”
Desmund Tutu sates: ” We contend that there is another kind of justice; restorative justice. Here the central concern is not retribution or punishment…The central concern is the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator, who should be given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he has injured by his offense…Thus we would claim that justice, restorative justice, is being served when efforts are being made to work for healing, for forgiving and for reconciliation.”
Revenge, retribution, payback will accomplish only one thing; keeping you chained to the offense. They place you at risk of becoming what you hate. In seeking to repay offense with offense, offense quietly becomes your identity, lifestyle and character.
Had South Africa traded one offense for another, it would still be imprisoned to grave injustice, a system of racism and hatred. Evil would have simply taken on a new face and been perpetuated for even more generations to suffer.
Forgiveness may appear to be weakness but in truth it is great strength and power! And as Brian Zahnd states, “it deprives evil of a host” for perpetuation!
Adriaan and I were robbed last Friday while at a Christian concert. The losses insurmountable. Our sense of security displaced by fear. Our faith shaken to its foundation. But, Unconditional? rings through my mind and I have determined to extend forgiveness to our offenders. Yes, I’m struggling. I saw the suspects a few days ago and I wanted to beat the truth out of them. That was my flesh not my heart. No, they have not confessed their crime. Still, I want to forgive. I refuse to seek retribution and in anyway return offense. I refuse to perpetuate evil. I do want justice but I want restorative justice!