Great Moments in Forgiveness

Forgiveness is more than a mere thought or theory. It originates deep inside but it carries little value until it comes out in action. Here are a few great out comings:

A.D. 33 (approximately):

From the cross, the dying Jesus Christ said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23: 34).

A.D. 34 – 36?

A believer in Jesus named Barnabas brought Saul of Tarsus (a brutal persecutor of Christians) to the apostles and explained how Saul had met the Lord on the road to Damascus and was now preaching Jesus as the Christ. This helped transform a fearful and suspicious church into trusting supporters of Saul (later named Paul). Barnabas understood that sin can be forgiven and sinners can change (see Acts 9).

March 4, 1865:

In his Second inaugural Address, President Abraham Lincoln appealed for healing and forgiveness between the North and the South with these words: “With malice toward none, and charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” A month later, on April 9, just before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox when tensions were still tender, Union brigadier general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain honorably saluted Confederate soldiers while commanding the Union troop at the surrender ceremony.


During World War II, Corrie ten Boom (1892 –1983) and her family in Amsterdam helped many Jews escape the Nazis. In 1944, a Dutch informant betrayed them and they were sent to a Nazi concentration camp where Corrie’s sister Betsy died. Corrie was released due to a clerical error. Three years later, while teaching in Germany, she encountered a former camp guard known to have been quite cruel. After hesitating, she shook his hand and felt God’s love in full supply. Later, she observed that victims of Nazi brutality who were able to forgive were better able to rebuild their lives. She wrote, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

October, 1958:

Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint went to live as missionaries with the Huaorani people of Ecuador, the same people who slaughtered their loved ones on January 8, 1956. Elisabeth’s husband Jim and Rachel’s brother Nate, along with Ed McCully, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian, went to Ecuador as missionaries and were killed by the natives. Years later, as a result of Elizabeth and Rachel’s forgiving efforts, many Huaorani became Christians, including some involved in the killings.

December 27, 1983:

As Pope John Paul II entered St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, he was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. Two years later, after visiting his would be killer in prison, he said, ” I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.″

September 16, 1998:

John Lewis, one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights movement, suffered cruel beatings and multiple arrests. He understood the culpability of segregationist leaders like Alabama Governor George Wallace who made life miserable for Blacks in the South. However, three days after Wallace died on September 13, 1998, Lewis wrote in a New York Times op-ed; “With all his failings, Mr. Wallace deserves recognition for seeking redemption for his mistakes, for his willingness to change and to set things right with those he harmed and with his God.” Lewis continued, “George Wallace should be remembered for his capacity to change. And we are better as a nation because of our capacity to forgive.”

June 14, 2003:

Sixty descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys, famous for feuding from 1863 to 1891, met in Pikeville, Kentucky, to declare an official truce between their families. The truce said, “We ask by God’s grace and love that we be forever remembered as those that bound together the hearts of two families to form a family of freedom in America.” The governors of Kentucky and West Virginia proclaimed June 14 as Hatfield and McCoy Reconciliation Day.

October 2, 2006:

A heavily armed man walked into a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and killed five little Amish girls, severely wounded others and shot himself. He was allegedly angry at God for taking his own little daughter. Several grieving Amish parents soon visited the killer’s wife to offer comfort and support. Many also attended the killer’s burial, which deeply moved the killer’s wife.


You have the opportunity to make this a “top-ten” list!

Forgiveness is more than a mere moment. Jesus willingly went to his death on a cross to accomplish the ultimate act of forgiveness, but that great moment in history made an everlasting difference. To this day, Christians look to the cross as the place where our sins (past, present and future) are nailed for good and forgiven forever.

When Helping Hurts

Hardship can be healthy. This can be difficult to see in the moment but the following simple questions will hopefully expand your vision:

  1. How can you kill a baby chick? Help it out of its eggshell, reducing its need to struggle.
  2. How can you kill a butterfly? Help it out of its cocoon.
  3. How can you kill a baby kangaroo? Help it get from the mother’s womb to the pouch. Fact: Mother marsupials do not assist their tiny offspring in this painstaking journey.

Of course, helping others is one of the best things we can do with our time. It can be a magnificent mission for your entire life. Do it sacrificially. But always cast your vision beyond the moment. Compassion without discernment can do great harm. Wise compassion is far more than a momentary notion or noble emotion.

Now, let’s move from the animal kingdom to human civilization:

  1. How can parents cripple children? Give them everything their little hearts crave. Solve their problems for them, do their homework and apply for their jobs.
  2. How can we destroy the family? Let adulterers pursue “love” wherever it takes them. Let anyone redefine marriage any way they please. Let polygamists pile one “love” on another. Let homosexuals make families that deprive children of a mom and a dad in the home and pretend that it makes no difference either way. Disparage marriage to protect unmarried parents from feeling bad. Then indiscriminately subsidize out-of-wedlock births. Just follow “love” anywhere it leads.
  3. How can you hurt the poor? Give them cash and walk away. Deny that most money given to transients goes to drugs, alcohol and gambling. As a minister in Arcadia, California, I learned that most of the heartfelt “I need cash” cases I heard coincided with the Santa Anita Racetrack racing season.

Real compassion is willing to work on a case-by-case basis, looking beyond the easy one-size-fits-all options. Giving kids what they want, following “love” (the pure emotional kind, that is) and throwing cash around are easy options. But “easy” is seldom the way of real love (the helpful kind, that is). Easy options can leave the needy worse off than before.

Again, hardship can be healthy. Observe…

  • Patience can only rise in a world where things do not come easy or on time.
  • Courage only rises amid fear and hardship. Real love expresses itself only where there is need.
  • Purity finds meaning only in a dirty world.
  • Integrity finds its highest expression amid difficulty.
  • Justice and righteousness rise highest where life is NOT fair.

Isn’t it from dirt that flowers grow? Likewise, genuine moral virtue grows best from the soil of difficulty and suffering. Shortcuts around hardship cannot get us all the way to the realm of virtue. Sadly, most people don’t even want to go there.

Christians do! We are resolved to help people in need, but not necessarily on their unhelpful terms and not at the price of our moral virtue. Our mission is to show compassion to those in trouble without feeding the problem. This may draw us away from one-size-fits-all easy options. Sorry. It may not bring you applause either. Compassion rooted in wisdom may not seem like “love” to those who want help on their own terms. But it is.

Remember the marsupials.