THINK ON THESE: The power of forgiveness

“I had a brother once, and I betrayed him.”

THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. Tacio

That sentence seemed to sum up the profound human drama, The Seed and the Sower, written by African writer Laurens Van der Post.

Unfortunately, this book is no longer available but author David Augsburger retold the story in his book, The Freedom of Forgiveness: “Once there were two brothers from a small South African village.  The elder brother was talk, handsome, intelligent, an excellent athlete, a good student, and a natural leader.  Sent away to a private school, he quickly made a name for himself.  As an admired campus leader and outstanding athlete, he was in his final year when his younger brother arrived to begin studies.

“The brother was not good-looking or athletic.  He was a hunchback.  Since his childhood his mother had sewed padded jackets that concealed his spinal deformity.  His sensitivity to his short, curved stature had grown through the years.  None of the family spoke of it in respect for his shamed feelings.  Yet the boy had one great gift.  He had a magnificent voice and could sing gloriously, like a nightingale on the veld.

“Soon after his arrival at the private school, the students held initiation ceremonials, which consisted of some public humiliation to extract proof of courage.  Often one student would be singled out to be especially hounded as a kind of scapegoat.  On the eve of the initiation, the student body in a cruel mob action ganged up on the younger brother, carried him off to the water tank, and demanded that he sing.  When he sang so frighteningly beautifully in his fear, they became all the more abusive, and tore off his shirt to reveal his never-before-seen hunchback to public ridicule.

“The older brother was aware of what was happening; he could have gone out and faced the sadistic mob.  A word from him would have put a stop to the whole tragic scene.  As a leader, he could have acknowledged the strange boy as his brother, but instead he busied himself in his work in the laboratory while the mob raged outside.  He betrayed his brother by refusing to go out to him in love when he was being abused.

“The brother survived physically, but his spirit was crushed.  He withdrew into himself.  He never sang again.  At the end of the term, he returned to the family farm.  Keeping to himself, he lived a lonely, reclusive life.

“The older brother rose to successful prominence in the capital, and when World War II came was an officer stationed in Palestine.  One night, recovering from an injury, he lay under the stars and in a dream saw himself as Judas in the circle of disciples around the Christ.  ‘I am Judas; I had a brother once, and I betrayed him,’ he said.

“‘Go to your brother,’ Christ replied.

“The journey from Palestine was incredibly difficult.  He arrived unannounced and found his brother watering plants in the parched garden.  It was a time of long drought.

“He looked into his brother’s dark eyes, still imprisoned in the painful past.  The moment of time arrested was visible in his face as well as his twisted form.

“‘I’ve come all this distance to spend a few hours with you,’ he said, then went straight to the heart of the matter of his great wrong.  When he had finished, both were in tears.  The first rainstorm of the year was breaking as the older brother walked back to the house and the younger brother turned off the irrigation water.

“Then in the distance, he heard the song of his brother in the garden, as he had not heard him sing since childhood.  A song of his own writing in boyhood, but now with a new verse: ‘I rode all through the night / to the fire in the distance burning / And beside the fire found / He who had waited for so long.’”

The story seems to echo of what had happened to American poet Edwin Markham when he was approaching his retirement years.  He discovered that the man to whom he had entrusted his wealth had squandered all the money.  His dream of a comfortable retirement vanished.  He started to brood over the injustice and the loss.  His anger deepened.  Over time, his bitterness grew more intensely.

One day, while sitting at his table, Markham found himself drawing circles as he tried to soothe the turmoil he felt within.  Finally, he concluded: “I must forgive him, and I will forgive him.”

Looking again at the circles he had drawn on the paper before, Markham wrote these famous lines: “He drew a circle to shut me out – heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. / But Love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle that took him in!”

The word “forgive,” as define by the Webster’s New World Dictionary, is “to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; pardon; to overlook an offense; to cancel a debt.”  Thus, the goal of forgiveness is to let go of a hurt and move ahead with life.

The Holy Bible has taught us why we should forgive and how we should do it.  The Lord’s Prayer told us: “Forgive s our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). 

“Forgiveness is our command,” C. Neil Strait said.  “Judgment is not.”  Remember the story of the woman who was caught in adultery, as chronicled in the book of John (8:1-11)?  She was brought by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees before Jesus and asked what they need to do for the Law of Moses commanded them to stone adulteress.

Although indirectly, he told the group: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” No one dared; in fact, they went away one at a time until only Jesus was left and the woman.  “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asked.

“No one, sir,” the woman replied. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

To lesser mortals, to forgive someone is difficult and revenge seems easier.  “Yes, you can require tooth for tooth in retaliation,” wrote Augusburger in his book.  “But what repayment can you demand from the man who has broken your home or betrayed your daughter?  What can you ask from the woman who has ruined your reputation?  So few sins can be paid for, and so seldom does the victim possess the power or the advantage to demand payment.  In most cases, making things right is beyond possibility.”

Repayment of what has been done to you is indeed impossible!  “What of revenge?” asked Augusburger.  “If you cannot get equal payment or restitution from the offender, at least you can get vengeance.  Pay back in kind, tit for tat.  Serve the same sauce.”

Is that what you really want — to bring yourself to the same level with your enemies?  But remember one saying which goes this way: “Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging an injury makes you but even; forgiving it sets you above.”

Revenge is not the solution, indeed.  “Revenge is the most worthless weapon in the world,” Augusburger wrote.  “It ruins the avenger while confirming the enemy in the wrongdoing. It initiates an endless flight down the bottomless stairway of rancor, reprisals, and ruthless retaliation.”

Revenge is a never ending story.  But forgiveness is another story.  In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus said: “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

“I’ll never forgive you,” General James Oglethorpe told John Wesley.  “Then I hope, sir,” Wesley replied, “you never sin.”

“One that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which all must pass if they would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven,” George Herbert once pointed out.

Forgiving and being forgiven are all of one piece.  “It is not a matter of which comes first,” Augusburger explained.  “There is no sequence of time or priority.  The two are one.  Anyone who loves God must also love his neighbor.  Anyone who hates another does not and cannot love God.”

But how many times should you forgive a person?  The Bible told us of Peter asking Jesus Christ how many times a he should forgive a person who sinned against him. Was seven time enough?  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

“Withholding forgiveness and nursing resentment simply allow another person to have control over your well-being,” wrote Victor M. Parachin in an article, The Big F.  “It is always a mistake to allow such negative emotions to influence your living.  Forgive, and you will be able to direct your life in positive thoughts and actions.”