The power of forgiveness

by Henrylito D. Tacio

Without forgiveness, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation,” said Roberto Assagioli. After all, as what Epictetus said, “Forgiveness is better than revenge, for forgiveness is the sign of a gentle nature, but revenge is the sign of a savage nature.” To which Isaac Friedmann added, “Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge.”

He cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven,” said Thomas Fuller. These words came into my mind while remembering the book, The Seed and the Sower, a profound human drama written by African writer Laurens Van der Post. Actually, I have never read the book but I came across about it when I had the chance of getting a copy of The Freedom of Forgiveness by Dr. David Augsburger.

Here’s the powerful story based from Dr. Augsburger’s account: “Once there were two brothers from a small South African village. The elder brother was a tall, 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 younger brother was the exact opposite of the older brother. “The brother was not good-looking or athletic,” Augsburger wrote. “He was a hunchback. Since his childhood, his mother had sewed paddled 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.”

It was when this younger brother arrived that the story took its twist: “Soon after his arrival at the private school, the student 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 beautiful in his fear, they became all the more abusive, and tore off his shirt to reveal his never-before-seen hunchback to public ridicule.”

Did the older brother help? No, he didn’t: “The older brother was aware of what was happening; he could have gone 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.

The younger 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.

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

“‘I’ve come all this distance to spend a few hours with you,’ he said, and 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, the older brother heard the song of his younger 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.”

Yes, the younger brother never retaliated at his older brother. Revenge never came into his mind. Instead he has forgiven him. Dr Augsburger wrote in his book, “Revenge not only lowers your enemy’s lowest level; what’s worse, it boomerangs. One who seeks revenge is like a fool who shoots himself in order to hit his enemy with the kick of the gun’s recoil.”

According to Dr. Augsburger, revenge is the most worthless weapon in the world. Why? “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.”

American preacher Billy Graham also wrote: “If someone has harmed us by breaking the law, we have the right to bring that person to justice, both for our good and the good of society. But hurting someone only because they have hurt is another matter. We can’t change the past; we can only seek God’s forgiveness for whatever it is we did wrong.”

American poet Edwin Markham was approaching his retirement years when he discovered that the man to whom he had entrusted his wealth had squandered all the money. The poet’s 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!”

How many times should you forgive a person who has done you wrong? That was what Peter had in mind, too, when he asked Jesus. “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus replied. “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy seven times.” (Read Matthew 18:21-22.)

Forgive and then forget. Dale Carnegie reminds, “When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health and our happiness. Our enemies would dance with joy if only they knew how they were worrying us, lacerating us, and getting even with us! Our hate is not hurting them at al, but our hate is turning our days and nights into a hellish turmoil.” — ###

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One response to “The power of forgiveness

  1. Dear Sir,

    I was browsing wordpress blogs and stumbled upon yours. This is a very liberating article to read after a long, hard week. Thank you for the reminder of the power of forgiveness. Lord knows I need some – to get and to give. God bless.

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