Pain destroys relationships. At the Clinic, we see this all the time in the context of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse perpetrated by a spouse against the person that they’ve pledged to love and cherish until death; we see it when a community threatens one of its members who is then forced to flee to the United States for safety; we see it when a veteran returns home and is unable to cope with his psychological trauma and isolates himself. Such pain destroys relationships.
But sometimes—and it is very, very rare—something beautiful can spring from this hallowed ground of loss and trauma. We saw glimmers of it in South Africa as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) arose from the glowing ashes of apartheid. The reason for the TRC was simple: it was “necessary to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past . . . and to advance the cause of reconciliation.”  Rampant human rights abuses that fed on the fires of institutional racism for such a long time were the rule of the day in South Africa—and yet.
And that is what forgiveness is. It is the “and yet” after the laundry list of horribles and rampant disregard of human dignity. Forgiveness is the “and yet” after the trauma of race, gender, or class-based violence is heard and seen for the monstrosity it is. Forgiveness is the cosmic “and yet” of a God shamelessly crucified by a world he came to redeem.
St Paul strikes this same chord in his letter to Colosse when he says, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). This is for the mundane stuff—“I can’t believe he forgot to put the dishes away AGAIN!”—as well as the traumatic and epoch-marking events after which we will never be the same. Forgiveness is for all of those things because we know that we are forgiven for sinning against God Himself. In this, we should remember that to forgive is not to condone. An abuse survivor must escape. Crimes should be justly prosecuted. Laws should be changed after acts of violence. But forgiveness is possible in Christ even in the direst moments.
Celestin Musekura, Founder and President of ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) lives out this principle of forgiveness in a way that is both bracing and beautiful. Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart; but, then again, neither is human existence. Several of Celestin’s immediate family members were murdered during a prayer gathering a few years after the Rwandan genocide reached its apex. Celestin experienced deep trauma. And yet, Celestin forgave the murderers and he works to seek justice in Africa.
Your children do not appreciate all that you do for them and they’re clueless about how much you love them. And yet. Your spouse is aloof and does not change the things you want him to. And yet. Your friend isn’t there when you need her and your text messages go unanswered. And yet. You are profoundly hurt by someone who pledged to love you. And yet. A racist extremist in Charleston enters a church and guns down nine innocent people during a prayer meeting because of the color of their skin. And yet.
You cannot force yourself to forgive by sheer grit alone. However, you can put the forgiveness you have received in Christ at the front of your mind and let that work its way out as you work to forgive others.
Until justice and peace embrace,
 Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995.
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