True forgiveness is to let go completely

Forgiveness generally means making a decision to let go of grudges and resentment. Christianity has taught its followers to forgive because Jesus Christ says that we must forgive 77 times

Nov 11, 2022

Forgiveness generally means making a decision to let go of grudges and resentment. Christianity has taught its followers to forgive because Jesus Christ says that we must forgive 77 times (Matthew 18: 21 – 23).

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II
When Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) passed away on September 8, the people of the United Kingdom mourned her passing. Her reign of 70 years propelled her into history as the longest-serving monarch in the United Kingdom. To many people, she was the symbol of the nation. However, what happened in the week following QEII’s passing was something I did not expect.

In social media platforms, many people mocked her death and condemned the British royal family. In the sporting world, Irish soccer fans chanted “Lizzie’s in a box” during a soccer match in Dublin; and when Kenyan long-distance runner, Eliud Kipchoge posted a condolence message in Twitter, he received a slew of criticisms. The number of hate comments on social media were so nasty that British broadcaster and motoring specialist, Jeremy Clarkson commented: “One of the things I’ve noticed in these last few hours is that so very many people on Twitter are truly awful human beings.”

American mainstream media also took a swipe at the passing of QEII. The New York Times and CNN accused the British empire for being genocidal in countries that it had colonised. And in a statement by the Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa, QEII was accused for keeping silent when British forces allegedly massacred thousands of natives in parts of Africa for uprising against British forces. The British were also accused of looting national treasures from lands they had colonised. I am not a history expert; therefore, I cannot comment whether British forces had committed those acts that allegedly took place over a period of time. But I am aware that the parties who made those accusations were not around during that time to witness or experience what really happened, yet they harbour hatred and unforgiveness that has been passed on through the generations.

Foreign invaders in Malaya
An ex-colleague shared that when she was offered a position in a Japanese firm, the hiring manager (who is a Malaysian) had asked whether her family would be okay if she worked for such an organisation. He informed her that there had been incoming staff whose family had disapproved of their members working for Japanese firms. These protesting family members were usually from the older generation who had lived during World War II (WWII).

In my family, my mother’s mother and grandmother used to share with her about the brutalities of the Imperial Japanese Army in Malaya during WWII. My mother then carried on the oral tradition and shared those stories with me. As a result, I came to know of how the soldiers tortured prisoners-of-war such as removing their finger nails, forcing the prisoner to drink lots of water and then jumping on his bloated stomach, ordering the prisoner to stand for hours under the sun while carrying heavy buckets of water, etc.

I know of a few people who heard the same stories as I did from their elderly relatives. As a result, they built up so much hatred that they boycott anything Japanese – they refuse to speak to Japanese people, refuse to travel to Japan and even refuse to eat Japanese food. That is an extreme case of unforgiveness, and the irony of it is that their hatred is built on merely listening to stories from their relatives. They themselves did not experience or witness those acts of brutality. This brings me to the story of Louis Zamperini.

Forgiveness is the healing factor
Louis Zamperini was an American WWII veteran and Olympic distance runner. During the war, he was commissioned in the United States Army Air Forces as a lieutenant, and served as a bombardier in the Pacific. During a search and rescue mission, his plane experienced mechanical failure and crashed into the sea. After drifting at sea for 47 days together with two other crewmates, Zamperini landed on Marshall Islands and was captured by Japanese troops. He was then taken to four different prisoner-of-war camps in Japan where he was tortured. There was this military personnel, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed ‘Bird’) who particularly picked on Zamperini because of his status as an Olympic distance runner. When the war ended, Zamperini was released and returned to the United States where he became a Christian evangelist advocating forgiveness.

In January 1998, Zamperini was in Japan to run a leg in the Olympic torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano. Whilst there, he made an attempt to meet up with Watanabe, who refused to meet him.
Zamperini then sent him a letter stating that even though Watanabe had been his most brutal tormentor during the war, Zamperini had forgiven him.

In his book, Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, Zamperini wrote: “True forgiveness goes hand in hand with no longer condemning. When you forgive you have to let it go, it’s like it never happened. True forgiveness is complete and total. Of all the wonderful results of changing my life, perhaps the best is my ability to forgive.” The story of Louis Zamperini was made into a movie titled, Unbroken (2014) which is available on Netflix.

Forgiving his assassin
Another story of forgiveness is the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. On May 13, 1981, the Pope was shot twice while entering St Peter’s Square in Vatican City. He suffered severe blood loss and serious intestinal wounds but recovered. The perpetrator was a Turkish guy, Mehmet Ali Agca who was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for the attempted assassination. Two years later in 1983, Pope John Paul II met Agca in prison, and forgave him. Later, the Pope said he did that “because that is what Jesus teaches. Jesus teaches us to forgive.” There is an iconic photo of Pope John Paul II meeting Agca in prison. Both of them were seated, bent forward and listening attentively to each other. I wonder what the Pope had to say to the person who had wanted to kill him.

Apart from Pope John Paul II and Louis Zamperini’s example of forgiveness, there are numerous stories of forgiveness from regular people such as parents forgiving the person who murdered their child, rape victims forgiving their assailant, and people forgiving their spouses who had cheated on them. If these regular folks are able to forgive the one who have hurt them, we too must learn to forgive. It is not easy, but doable with God’s grace. Only then, we may claim to be disciples of Christ who are truly living the values of the Gospel

(Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one’s heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She works for a Japanese bank and is responsible for its Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. She can be reached at: [email protected])

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