I recently heard an NPR interview with one of the most well known giants of faith in our world today, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Here is a man who is a tremendous example of what it means to live out the Gospel. He tirelessly fought for justice in aparteid era South Africa. And then (and this is the biggie), he turned around and chaired the country’s Truth and Reconiliation Commission. In no small part due to his leadership and calls for grace and healing, South Africa was able to emerge from terrible violence and become the stable, peaceful, successful country it is today. Nelson Mandella had a thing or two to do with it as well, of course.
Such remarkable examples of the power and importance of forgiveness. Such clear living out of Jesus’ call to love our neighbors.
And such a high bar for most of us to even contemplate trying to clear. We’re still struggling to forgive the stranger who drove too fast (or too slow) in front of us, or the neighbor who can’t seem to keep their dog in their own yard, or the family member who forgot our birthday or anniversary. To say nothing of the rapist or the drunk driver or the foiled terrorist.
But…what’s it like to try and forgive not just one person, but thousands? What’s it like to try and forgive an organized group of people who beat us, or tortured us, or killed our friends, or imprisoned our spouse or parent so long that they died in a jail cell?
I hope I never have to find out.
But it does put in stark, unflattering light just how petty many of the slights we clutch to our breasts are. And it does remind us that it is possible to forgive and move forward into a better future together.
And isn’t that what we should all want? Isn’t that better than living lives that fester with unresolved anger?
I think so.
Let it out. Constructively. Then forgive. As you would ask others to forgive you. A lot of us keep telling our kids that. Maybe we should listen, too.
As Archbishop Tutu writes in the new book he coauthored with his daughter, Mpho Tutu, we are Made for Goodness:
We are fundamentally good. When you come to think of it, that’s who we are at our core. Why else do we get so outraged by wrong? When we hear of any egregious act, we are appalled. Isn’t that an incredible assertion about us? Evil and wrong are aberrations. If wrong was the norm, it wouldn’t be news. Our newscasts wouldn’t lead with the latest acts of murder or mayhem, because they would be ordinary. But murder and mayhem are not the norm. The norm is goodness.
If a man who has seen and heard so much evil can say that, I think we can all adopt a similarly healthy perspective.