The day before I arrived in the USA, I spoke at a conference devoted to peace building and reconciliation in contested societies. Representatives from all over the world were present including education secretaries, politicians, and community activists. I was one of the keynote speakers talking about my work in the inner city in Belfast, engaging young people to be better citizens even if they felt society had let them down. The other keynote speaker was the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness. We both spoke from our current roles in what was becoming the post conflict era. There was a secret that was not publicized but was well known to the attendees, both keynote speakers were former combatants in the conflict.
Martin McGuinness had his history and I had mine, both on opposite sides of the conflict. I found him to be warm, generous and incredibly sincere, a man now dedicated to peace and reconciliation. I hope he would have said the same about me.
This week, Mr. McGuinness passed away. It is kind of strange what this kind of thing stirs up. I have seen some of the very worst that bitterness, rage and hatred can do. I have also seen the best of what forgiveness and reconciliation can do. Jesus told us to forgive each other and love our enemies. Mr. McGuinness was my enemy and I was his yet he became a man focused on reconciliation, believing in a brighter future and used all his energy is the pursuit of moving forward, not looking back. He became a man I respected.
There simply is no alternative to forgiveness. For the wife whose husband has betrayed her, forgiveness is the end goal no matter what decision is made about the marriage. For the person who has been victimized at the hands of someone else, forgiveness is non-negotiable. Of course, reconciliation is another thing and not all forgiveness will result in reconciliation and that is OK. Forgiveness is what I do, reconciliation requires both parties and sometimes that is simply not a safe option or even desired by both parties. After all, Jesus forgives us all, some just don’t want to be reconciled to Him.
I listened to Dr. Rodney Hogue speak on forgiveness this last weekend and it was powerful. You can buy his book by clicking here. It was the most hopeful, practical sermon on forgiveness I have heard. I left feeling that forgives is a strategic weapon of great significance for the church in these days. It certainly sounds better than the alternative of bitterness, anger and rage.