The other night I came across a documentary being screened that took me back to my homeland, South Africa. The report conveyed some of the trauma and pain encountered during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. The Commission was set up to provide an opportunity for those who perpetrated heinioius crimes to confess their guilt and apply for amnesty.
One instance reported involved the killing of four teenagers who were basically set up and ambushed by police before being executed. The mothers were interviewed and despite the years that had passed were still understandably grieving the loss of their boys. At the Commission hearing a video of the death of their sons was shown and the trauma of what they saw was unbearable. Eventually one of the key participants in the killings, a black policeman, met with the mothers to ask forgiveness.
How do you apologize to a mother for killing her son? There really is nothing that comes close to adequate. After he’d finished speaking various mothers responded with grief and anger – particularly because he was ‘one of us’. Then one mother looked straight at the man who killed her son and said softly, “You are the same age as my son, and he’s never coming back, so holding unforgiveness toward you is not going to bring him back to me. Jesus told us on the Cross to forgive…. so I forgive you my son, go and make something of your life – I forgive you completely.”
During the course of the hearings that depth of courage and forgiveness was heard many times. It is a testimony to the authentic love and power of God transforming a human heart. I hear so many people protest that they hate religion. I do as well – but a relationship with the One who works miracles in broken hearts is an entirely different reality. Jesus is the one who forgave me and breathed life into me….. and I’ve still so much to learn about the implications of his love, forgiveness, and power being worked out in my life, my purpose, my relationships, and myself.
As I write a dear friend of mine is grieving the death of a family member. One side of the family is torn up with anger and don’t want any ‘religious words’ at the service…. they just want to remember John (not real name). I’ve taken funerals like that before. They are painful, empty, and with no hope… merely gatherings of those who have a party when in pain and whistle in the dark in defiance. For those who have found life and mercy in relationship with Jesus (not religion) the presence of love and hope in the midst of grief and sorrow is powerful, real, and of great comfort.
This matter of knowing God and following Jesus is not for the proud….. having walked many to the threshold of death and witnessed death as it comes eventually to all whom we love….. it is a moment of truth. Everyone wants to believe there is more to life….. Jesus rose from the dead to affirm that fact. I want to gently say to ‘John’s’ family….. If there is no God then of course John would like you to have a party and remember his exploits and get p*******. If there is a God John now knows that truth – having passed through death. His entire frame of reference will have changed and if he could he would undoubtedly want someone to stand up and tell those left behind that God is real, loving, and more relevant than he ever had imagined.
The mother who forgave her son’s killer makes me proud to call myself a Christian… I love her anger and her grace, her courage and her willingness to let go and embrace someone who hurt her so terribly deeply. Hers is a beautiful courage…. humbling and inspiring….. like Jesus, whose own mother watched him killed before her eyes and undoubtedly echoed his dying words, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Don’t be religious, be real….. for that we need the love and Spirit of God beating within us….
Here is a clip from another traumatic incident involving young men known as the ‘Cradock Four’…..