Forgiveness Can Heal Civil Wars
CIVIL wars, such as the ones being fought in Eastern Europe, are outward signs of profound unrest in several areas of the globe. These pockets of ethnic strife often have a long and bitter history. But no matter how conflicts have started, the tendency to continue hating long after the original participants are gone needs to be overcome in order that genuine, lasting peace may emerge. Our prayers can help this to come about in the localized conflicts within our families and communities as well as in the strife between nations.
To give up hating requires a willingness to forgive and to try to see our fellow humans in a new and more loving light. This isn't always easy, but we have the example of Christ Jesus, who gave the world an unparalleled illustration of forgiveness. At one point, Luke's Gospel records, he told his followers, ``Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you . . . . For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
Yet Jesus didn't expect us just to overlook evildoing or malice. Instead, he was asking us to change our whole relationship to others. Instead of judging them in material terms--and always finding them wanting--he expected us to recognize them as, in truth, the spiritual children of God. This shift in perspective involves more than the intellect. It should produce change in our hearts as well.
This change occurs because we are striving to see the man God created rather than a broken creature living in a sinful world. God-created, spiritual man is anything but broken or hateful. He is, instead, full of integrity and intelligence, good and pure. God's man is fully capable of acting rightly. In fact, he cannot do otherwise, because he is inseparable from his divine Father.
Within family, local, or national conflicts, however, God and His man may well seem to be absent. Bitterness and hatred may seem to be dominant, and very hard to overcome. I remember well such a time in my own life.
As a result of a family conflict, I no longer had any legal standing regarding certain actions that my stepfather should have been--but wasn taking. Although I would not personally benefit from these actions, I felt he had both a moral and personal responsibility to do them. The months went by, and because of my situation within the family, I didn't feel I could even speak to him about it. My anger and frustration were intense, and hardly a day passed without my agonizing over this situation. I felt he w as being vindictive and selfish--``just as he always was, I thought.
Then one day as I was praying about the situation, I was able to see it from his perspective. No one had shared his actual view with me, but for a few moments I could see clearly that this issue, which meant so much to me, was not of equal significance to him. And, more important, I could forgive him for this attitude. This insight helped to free me from feeling that it was normal for him to be hateful, and I was able to remember the times when he had done good things.
From that moment on, I was at peace about the situation. Within a few days, another family member called to tell me that my stepfather had taken the actions I had hoped for. I never had an opportunity to thank him personally, but his action brought peace to a very anxious period within the family.
I learned from this the unhelpfulness of predicting that people will act evilly, that doing the wrong thing is to be expected. Similarly, searching out individuals' ethnic origins or hating them because our ancestors hated their ancestors will never bring our world freedom and peace.
Instead, we need to turn wholeheartedly to what we know of God and to look for His man in ourselves and in those around us. Intelligence, patience, goodness, love, purity, are all spiritual aspects of God's offspring. Each of us can express these and other qualities. And we can find spirituality in others as we forgive them for past mistakes and trust God's loving care for each of His children.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes much about our relationship to God and makes some very specific comments about forgiveness. In her Message to The Mother Church for 1902 she says: ``The Christian Scientist cherishes no resentment; he knows that would harm him more than all the malice of his foes. Brethren, even as Jesus forgave, forgive thou.
To give up resentment and to forgive as Jesus did means to love with ``no strings attached. We need to live in accord with God's law, which is a law of impartial and universal love. It means giving up the materialism that breeds hate and reaching a more spiritual outlook on life. It means being willing to forgive another for wrongdoing, and it also may require asking forgiveness if we are the ones who have done wrong.
In our prayers for our own and other nations, then, we can pray to know that no one can be separated from God's love. As we recognize God's presence with everyone--and the impartiality and completeness of His love--we are affirming the power of good and the divine law. This law is what ultimately frees us from ethnic hatreds or the tendency to cling to past injustices. In the light of God, divine Love, we begin to see that God has always been present in our lives, and this presence is illustrated through
unexpected goodness and mercy that have come to us.
Learning to know God in this way enables us to forgive past mistakes because we have begun to see Love's presence with us always. In this modest way we begin to heal the little wars in our own lives and, through reaching out in prayer, we also make a start in healing the wars and separations among the nations.