The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces has shaken us all. The terrifying and heart-rending scenes of suffering in the destroyed towns and cities on our television screens, the pictures of unimaginable experiences of those hiding in basements, in besieged towns and cities, are shocking and awful.  These images we see on tv will stay with us.  President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine put a video on Facebook on the last Sunday before Lent, which is known as Forgiveness Sunday. He said:

“Today is Forgiveness Sunday.   But we cannot forgive…… And God will not forgive.  Not today. Not tomorrow. Never.  And instead of Forgiveness there will be judgement.”

And who can blame him?

I have been asked to write something about forgiveness and reconciliation and I do so with awareness of this wider context of dreadful suffering where men, women and children will live with the consequences of this war for many years.

C.S. Lewis made this telling remark: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” It is a subject which is so much easier to talk about than to actually live in our daily lives. Even still, it is clear from the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18.21-35 that forgiving our enemies is part of what it means to follow Jesus.  In the Lord’s prayer we say “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, reminding us that when we ourselves have been forgiven, we must seek to forgive others, every time we pray this prayer.

Around the same time as President Zelensky’s broadcast, there was a global, online prayer meeting at which Christians from around the country joined online with Christians from Ukraine.  When asked what the Church in the West should pray for Ukraine, a Ukrainian Christian encouraged us to pray two things:

  1. To join with the Ukrainian Church in giving thanks for all the acts of courage, kindness, compassion and practical assistance given in midst of darkness of war
  2. To pray that they would not be left with enmity or hatred for their enemy.

I was very moved by these courageous and hopeful words spoken during great suffering.

Eugene Peterson, in The Message translation of Romans 5.20-21, speaks about “the aggressive forgiveness we call grace”.  Grace as aggressive forgiveness is surely forgiveness that will confront rather than condone.  It implies an intentionality to offer grace, regardless.  It is not passive.

Forgiveness is an intentional daily process of receiving the forgiveness that God offers to each one of us through Jesus Christ and in doing so, we are enabled to forgive others.  It is about a flow of forgiveness, a daily receiving and giving, which confronts truth; it doesn’t deny the pain or change the past.  It seeks justice and it holds those who do wrong accountable.   Forgiveness, in essence, is a decision to refuse to live with the pain of what others choose to do.  It breaks the cycle of bitterness that binds you to the wounds of yesterday.

For many people, who have suffered deeply at the hands of others, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, the path to forgiveness may be a process and a prayer that is repeated often.  God is a God of justice and mercy and in Jesus Christ, He has facilitated the way to forgiveness for all humanity.

After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela famously said:

Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.”