My Year of Peace: Peace and Forgiveness

I have just been reading through some Desmond Tutu quotes. I find him to be such an inspiration. For those of you who don't know anything about him, he was the first black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in South Africa. During the 1980's he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward finding a peaceful end to apartheid. What makes him even more remarkable in my mind is that after helping to end apartheid, he helped to build a peaceful society based on the principles of forgiveness. When Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, it would have been easy for the black South Africans to avenge themselves for the horrible racism, oppression, and violence they had experienced for so long. Thanks to brilliant leaders like Tutu and Mandela, they instead chose forgiveness. Tutu advocated a justice commission that would encourage the violators and victims to come forward and share their stories in exchange for amnesty. Tutu has said many times before that violence is cyclical, solving violence with more violence only creates a chain of violence that never ends.

I had the privilege of hearing Archbishop Tutu speak when I was a freshman at Baylor University. At the time, I did not know much about him, but his words have resonated with me ever since. He is one of my heroes, a man with much compassion, courage, joy, and love. Today I needed to think about Archbishop Tutu because of my own struggles with peace and forgiveness. You see, Tutu understands a basic aspect of Christianity that often eludes me but that has become increasingly obvious in my search for peace; namely, that peace is bound together with all the other Christian virtues: love, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and even forgiveness. Forgiveness is the central theme of the Gospel. It is a virtue advocated numerous times in the Bible, but it is in some ways the most difficult part of the Gospel. When we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," we would like to leave the last part of the sentence off. We want forgiveness, but we don't always want to give it or even know how to forgive.

The last few days have reminded me of some of my own deeper grudges and resentment. For various reasons, I have been reminded of some past hurts, some past incidents when others have trespassed against me. As I see others (or even some of the same people) committing acts that remind me of what happened to me, I become angry. I don't think my anger is unjustified or completely irrational although clearly I don't know the full story in many of these cases, so my first reaction is to rectify or to punish somehow those I see as the perpetrators. I want them to feel my pain and the pain I perceive they have caused to others. I certainly don't want to forgive them, but this interferes with my own personal peace.

Today as I tried to meditate, I couldn't find shalom. I was instead distracted with angry thoughts. You see, I am convinced these people are acting wrongly, so I find it easy to justify my anger and stew in it. That is when I am reminded of Archbishop Tutu. Black South Africans were systematically oppressed, abused, and even killed for decades, yet when the tables were turned, they chose not to punish, but to forgive, even though punishment would have been justified. They understand something that I struggle to understand, that justice is restorative, not retributive (not an exact quote of Tutu, but close enough). Peace comes through restoration of relationships which can only be achieved through forgiveness. This is not to say that we should not be held accountable for our actions, but rather that we should seek to restore relationships with those who have hurt us rather than breaking those relationships or harboring resentment. What a monumental task!

So now I am sitting here thinking about Desmond Tutu and how he extended forgiveness instead of a closed fist. I am wondering how I can do the same and hoping that the same Spirit can give me the strength to do so and heal my past hurts, restore my broken relationships, and fill me with shalom.

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