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April 18, 2008                           





The Spirit has not moved me to post in the last several weeks; still there have been a few important stories that have caught my eye.  They all center in some way around forgiveness.  After faith and obedience, forgiveness is the most important aspect of our relationship with God.

Indeed, from God’s perspective this is the most important part of the relationship.  Completely grasping this utmost act of love is beyond the vast majority of humans, including most Christians.

Yet, the bible says, “…if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mathew 6:14; see also Mark 11:25-26 and Luke 6:37).  Essentially, our personal salvation clearly depends, in part, on the extent and quality of the mercy that we show to others.

Earlier this week, a prosecutor in Europe announced that he was charging an 86-year old former Nazi with three murders that occurred during WWII (“86-Year-Old Charged with Nazi-Era Killings in Netherlands,” AP story from 4/15/08).  Now, this man is half German and half Dutch.  He joined the Nazis after they occupied his country and has admitted the cold-blooded killings.

Obviously, killing is wrong.  However, this occurred during a war.  In WWII six million Jews were killed and historians believe that upwards of fifty million died altogether, about half civilians.  This man did not design the “Final Solution” and he didn’t perform hideous experiments on children.  There is absolutely nothing to distinguish him from tens of thousands of his contemporaries.

After so much time, what is gained by prosecuting this man?

Vengeance is for the Lord, not man (see Romans 12:19, quoting Deuteronomy 32:35).  Why can’t we as a people get over our need to seek bloodthirsty revenge upon those who have harmed us?  I'm as guilty of this as anyone.  It’s not punishment.  It’s revenge and it’s ungodly.

Towards the end of the war crimes trials at Nuremburg, Germany after the war many pointed out the hypocrisy of the US spearheading prosecutions of Nazis after we had incinerated several hundred thousand mostly innocent Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Recently, similar UN-mandated international criminal trials have been in vogue to punish “rogue” leaders.

It’s hard to see the distinction between the ends justifies the means tactics of the late former leader of Yugoslavia and Israel or America, for example.  I doubt that God sees one.  And how do you blame Liberia’s former president for atrocities committed by soldiers in the field?  Hypocritically, the US gets away with dishonestly saying that when our own troops commit heinous murders it’s an aberration.

These are not apples versus oranges, but merely different sizes of the same kind of bad fruit. 

America, won’t even sign the treaty bringing us under the authority of the institutions that conduct these trials, but we brandish the possibility of prosecuting our foes like a weapon.

It’s clear to me that our leaders do not understand the difference between right and wrong.  The second story that touched on these difficult questions involves an innocent man serving life in prison in Illinois (“A 26-Year-Old Secret Could Free Inmate,” AP story from 4/12/08).

I didn’t even bother to waste the time researching all of the cases that have come to light in the last decade that have demonstrated the utter incompetence and corruption in Illinois law enforcement circles over the previous generation.  Off the top of my head I can remember at least one man being freed from death row following a wrongful conviction that led to the state’s Republican governor calling a moratorium on the death penalty because the verdicts and the system are not reliable. 

Beyond this, I recall a case where three police officers in a Chicago suburb lied in court and manufactured a case against an innocent Latino man, with the complicity of prosecutors.  He ultimately was freed after spending years behind bars; as far as I know, the cops were never prosecuted.  These scenarios are not uncommon in our country.  If these have been exposed, what lies beneath the surface?

Anyway, in the latest case two public defenders became aware that their clients were potentially involved in a murder and that an innocent man was being railroaded.  One of these men had confessed.  They cited attorney-client privilege as the reason they never spoke up until after the man who callously took credit for the killing died.  After all, they claim that they were following the law and legal ethics.

Were they supposed to risk their careers and perhaps a civil judgment by doing the right thing?

Well…yes.  I don’t know if these men were believers or not; and as a former practicing member of the bar I know that these are tough calls and they come up often.  But, as Christians how do we justify such silence?  It was wrong.

The wrongly convicted man hit the nail on the head when he was quoted as saying, “Is (a) job more important than an individual's life?"

As usual, the article seemed to focus more on the wrenching conflict for the lawyers while barely touching on the pain and suffering of the man who spent over a quarter century in prison and is still locked up.  I pray that a reporter will have the compassion and patience to tell that story.

As usual, the prosecution is resisting overturning the conviction despite the overwhelming evidence of injustice.  There is a concept in the law know as repose, or rest.  There has to be an end to litigation eventually or it goes on forever with the constant re-churning of old cases and wasting of resources.  In other words, there is an institutional bias against admitting mistakes.  This is often immoral.

How do we even begin to tell others in the world how to run their affairs when we have this going on at home?  For his part, the incarcerated man seems to be patient and forgiving.  This could be a lesson to us all.

Which leads me to my final point.  Late last year I read a story that puts right, wrong and forgiveness in the light that I believe the Lord wants us to put it in (“Rwanda Genocide Victims, Killers Meet,” AP story from 12/12/07).

Over a decade ago the US, the UN and everyone stood by as at least 500,000 Africans were killed in a tribal bloodletting.  In an amazing story of forgiveness, this last article introduces the reader to a Tutsi woman who was able to forgive a Hutu neighbor who had killed her relatives in an area close by where the infamous burning of a church occurred with cowering victims inside.

The beginnings of the mercy were sown in small community gatherings that brought the killers and victims together and community building projects. 

The article states that: “As Cecile laid bricks for the new village alongside Xavier, she slowly learned to accept that he was only a pawn in the genocide. It helped that they went to the same church, the church where Cecile's family once hid. She is still not quite sure how or when they became friends, as she sits in her four-room brick house with a tin roof that Xavier helped build.”  Cecile goes on to say, "A sense of closeness would begin to form between us…” 

The reporter adds that, “The strength of her will is clear…it is almost as if she is willing peace, and believes any less would be a betrayal of her faith and her village.”  Another survivor of the genocide tells a similar story.  She said, "This way of living has helped us get rid of our hatred and anger. I don't know how it happened, but one day I realized, these people are my friends."

I have woven a tale of right and wrong comprised of three seemingly unrelated stories.  One features an old Nazi, no longer a threat, who is all too easy to demonize.  The second features men who failed to go out of their way to sacrifice in order to save someone, a sin of omission.  Yet, they apparently have been forgiven by their “victim.”  Surely, the lawyers “killed” their victim like the Nazi.  Society's thirst for vengeance led to the imprisonment of an innocent man.  The last installment features a woman forgiving a vicious killer who sinned through acts of commission.  She must live with him in her midst every day.

I can only suggest that you read this last incredible saga and the Lord will pierce your heart.  The utmost act of love is forgiving someone who has injured you deeply.  Relinquishing the anger and hatred is a sacrifice.  Laws really can’t do this and neither can peace treaties.  They can help, but this is something that can only be accomplished and taught individually, one by one, and by the grace of God.

If Cecile can forgive, why can’t we all?  When we learn to forgive and forget like the Lord (Isaiah 43:25); His return cannot be far off.

Right, wrong; you decide.  Sometimes we sin by doing something bad.  Other times we sin by not acting.  Just about everyone has something that they did wrong long ago.  The act of forgiveness has supernatural positive effects that ripple across time and space to bless us all through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).


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