The Holy Living column with Peter Dodson

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23.34)
Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23.34)

The Holy Bible contains a section of text headed “Forgiveness” (see Matthew 18.21- 35 NRSV). Saint Peter came to Jesus and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

Jesus is teasing; he means: “Don’t even think about counting”.

During the Second World War, a German aircraft bombed London, killing my mother and father. I do not hesitate to reveal that the Church gave me the inner visionary power, not only to overcome the devastating trauma, but to forgive the Luftwaffe pilot who had destroyed my parents.

Ruth Stranex Deeth, a devoted Christian and Ripon resident, worked for decades as a nurse in the border country of Uganda-Kenya. In 1975, without warning or reason, she was imprisoned by Idi Amin’s henchmen. She remembers “the fear and desperation she felt in her dark and dank cramped prison cell ... She still shivers at the memory of her cell door rattling, as she wondered if this was the moment she was to be taken to her death ... She was aware that people were [being] shot in the street for minor infringements ...

“I didn’t shine in prison, I wasn’t brave,” she says. “[People] had been arrested on trumped-up charges and condemned to death ... [Every day, people] were disappearing ... and bodies found floating in Lake Victoria.”

Eventually released, Ruth wrote a book entitled “Where Love Leads You”.

Thankfully, repentance is not always a prerequisite for forgiveness.

Ruth forgave Idi Amin’s crippling regime.

Throughout 2017, the media has reported acts of violence and injustice against defenceless people. Some reporters have expressed hatred, insisting that such crimes are beyond forgiveness.

One Christian writer condemned media reaction as “unlimited vengeance”.

Authentic Christianity opposes revenge and, instead, advocates following Jesus’ principle of what the same author described as “unlimited forgiveness.”

Throughout human and biblical history, laws have been devised to combat retaliation and its consequences. Britain’s criminal justice system replaces personal revenge with neutral justice. Jesus, however, proposes a more radical system: healing and reconciliation.

That is precisely what countless damaged people and communities have found, and continue to find, in him.

Authentic Christians overflow with the desire to forgive others; their experience of God’s forgiveness makes them forgiving.

I have experienced an overwhelming measure of God’s merciful forgiveness. My own early trauma, and consequent damage, has received, and continues to receive, profound healing and reconciliation.

The deep-down experience of being forgiven enables authentic Christians to be generous, compassionate and forgiving towards other people and the world.

Depending on the severity of the abuse and damage, the process towards healing and reconciliation may happen suddenly or over a period of time.

In my monthly columns, I have asserted that the Church possesses all the necessary “tools” to enable us to grow up into the full stature of Christ.

Ripon’s local churches, with their various acts of worship and fellowship, always include an encouragement to recognise one’s own lack of sacrificial love, to own up to it and to receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness.