Have any of you ever seen pictures of what happened when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Japan, in 1945 – almost 60 years ago? Those bombs brought the Second World War to an end – but they also showed how brutal and cruel war can be.
How can we believe in a God who loves and cares for the world when people can be so violent to one another?
How will that time of peace and goodwill come about, which the Bible talks of, and which Christians believe God has promised for the world? Think of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the bombs and murders in Israel and the Palestinian areas; and the many years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, which is actually within our own country, although it’s easy to forget it.
I recently happened to hear an interview on the radio which was about this very subject. I was in the car – turned the radio on – it sounded rather dull at first – and I very nearly changed channel. But I realised just in time that this was something I really ought to be listening to. A woman – called Jo - was talking about forgiveness; and saying that forgiveness, for her, wasn’t something just for odd occasions. It was more a whole way of living; something which was never far from her mind. Something for everyday. I thought – ‘this is fine in theory, but it’ll be difficult to find anyone who’s really suffered to agree with her’. Then a man started to speak. He was called Patrick. He said, in a rather mild Irish accent, that people are violent as a result of weakness. They strike out at other people, in other words, because they just can’t see any alternative.
It emerged, as I listened further, that the man was Patrick Magee - an Irishman who had planted a bomb which killed the father of the woman, Jo Berry. He had been Sir Anthony Berry, a Member of the British Parliament, who had been killed when the IRA blew up a hotel in Brighton some years ago, in which he and several other politicians (including the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher) – were staying. This was astonishing: this man had blown up this woman’s father; they were both in the same interview, and the woman was saying she had forgiven the man for what he had done.
But that phrase of Patrick Magee – an ex-IRA terrorist – stuck in my mind. ‘People are violent as a result of weakness: they become violent when they can’t see any alternative’. Jo Berry had been very brave in finding a way to meet the man who had killed her father; but it helped her first to understand why he had done it, and then to forgive him. Forgiving him didn’t make him any less of a murderer; but it was a way of trying to make some good come out of terrible evil. Patrick Magee said that it would be a long time before violence in Northern Ireland came to a complete end; but you had to start on the road, or it would never happen at all. In fact he is now working alongside Jo Berry on trying to build a lasting peace in Northern Ireland – something you would never have dreamed of a few years ago.
You can find their story on the internet on the site www.theforgivenessproject.com - where there are other stories of people who have found ways of making good come out of evil. Some have been able to forgive, but not all – it isn’t easy – but they remind us that there are ways of creating a world in which the suffering of millions of people over the last century does not have to be repeated.
Of course forgiveness lay at the heart of the teaching of Jesus. Listen, finally, to his words from the cross: "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do".
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