And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
Some years back, as I was recovering from surgery, I took the time to catch up on some backlogged reading. One of the items I read was the story of a Nigerian named Zwandien in an edition of the Voice of the Martyrs magazine, titled, Learning to Rest in God’s Sovereignty (Oct 2019, 4-5).
I was deeply moved by this story of forgiveness. It wasn’t the type of conditional forgiveness that reluctantly follows a confession and an apology. It was the brand of forgiveness Jesus gave while on the cross for those who wrongly put him there, and who were offering no apology but only continued insult and mockery.
Zwadien suffered through the brutal murder of his sister, Mary, for being a Christian, and the resulting grief stricken death of his grandmother over Mary’s murder. Zwadien turned to the sufferings of Job for strength and comfort. Even though he has trouble sleeping many nights, remembering and mourning the gruesome killing of his sister for her faith in Jesus, he relies on the sovereignty of God for hope, and he speaks freely of forgiving the Fulani attackers as Jesus forgave him. Zwadien also shares how his brother-in-law, Bulus and his six young children, also forgive the attackers for murdering his wife and mother of his children, and desires them to also know Jesus. Neither of them want revenge!
These Nigerians also remind me of the story of Sokreaksa S. Himm, whom I heard at a conference a few years prior. When he was a youth, he and his family were taken by Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldiers to a prepared grave where they were hacked to death by hoes. Severely wounded and left for dead, covered by the bodies of his dead siblings and parents, Sokreaksa struggled to climb out of the mass grave, as he listened to the mocking laughter of the executioners while they walked away. He vowed revenge, and his heart was filled with burning anger toward his family’s murderers. Sokreaksa eventually made his way to Canada where he heard the gospel of Jesus. After no longer wanting to be consumed by a darkening, all-consuming hatred and vengeance, something revenge would never heal, he gave himself to Jesus, became a new person, and forgave the killers. In fact, he tracked them down, one by one, and forgave them, embraced each, and gave each a friendship token and a Bible. You can read his amazing story in his books, The Tears of My Soul and After the Heavy Rain.
By comparison, I haven’t suffered much. Thus, I am humbled in light of what these others suffered and yet forgave and sought the best for their assailants. This type of forgiveness is only found in the gospel of Jesus, the God of the Christian Bible.
This forgiveness grabbed my heart and made me want to be like them, to know Jesus as they know Jesus. Of all the reasons I can think of for wanting this, I think this is one of the most relevant: I can’t think of anything else that would truly make the world a better place or give a better foretaste of the expansive new world to come than the forgiveness Jesus gives and works through those who come to know and follow him.