Theologian Albrecht Ritschl declared “justification and reconciliation is the central doctrine of Christianity.” Edinburgh Professor, H. R. Mackintosh, said of Jesus, “In His person the Kingdom of God is here” (The Christian Experience of Forgiveness, Fontana Books, 1961, 12-13). Now Catherine Larsen describes colonialism, racism, political manipulation, and genocide as she observed it in Rwanda following the slaughter in that country (Larson/As We Forgive/ Zondervan/2009).
Larsen traces the obvious threads of reconciliation she found woven into public life in post-genocidal Rwanda. She met victims and perpetrators, including widows and orphans, intersecting at that place where Rwanda’s past and future clashed. Tutsi Antoine Rutayesire endured 100-days of Hutu neighbors slashing, bludgeoning, and burning his Tutsi neighbors and leaving one of eight of his countrymen dead.
Conflict became seemingly inevitable in Rwanda when the government released 40,000 prisoners back into society in 2003 and more in 2007. Although suffering, memory, and identity created huge emotional roadblocks to forgiveness, Larson reveals to readers how mediation, truth-telling, restitution, and interdependence played successful roles in initiating healing and in restoring relationships to a renewed level of wholeness.
Writing on a subject that haunts humanity, Larsen offers Biblical solutions that prove practical in a world standing waist deep in violence and separated by generations of hatred. The Old Testament prophet could almost have been writing to our generation when he cried out, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12 KJV).
With the new genocidal wave of religious extermination, I see forgiveness as an issue of increasing importance to the church, Christians in general, and to the world at large. It could affect international relationships for generations to come. Will we persist in using our words like battering rams, denigrating and dehumanizing, dividing and devouring one another? Surely, our explosion of computerized knowledge empowers us to Google resources we can apply to our broken relationships! Is a shared future an impossible vision for our globe?
In view of the forgiveness that Larsen found following the slaughter of a million African souls of Rwandan families and friends suggests to me that our generation owes it to ourselves and our neighbors to at least explore the social-psychological and spiritual dimensions for achieving a more lasting peace in these war-weary days.
Oscar Romero believed that peace comes not with terror, fear, or silent cemeteries. As more than merely repressed violence, peace suggested Romero promises the “generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.”
Shalom, in the Hebrew language, defines peace as looking for the well-being of both victims and offenders, with all flourishing together as God was in Christ. God never erased the scars of crucifixion; He left them to testify to the pain of love, and John 3:16 was the extent to which He could extend himself to conquer evil.
Forgiveness offers active suffering when extended on behalf of victims. Forgiveness creates a pathway of redemption--peace--shalom. Only such love can conquer hostility and mend broken relationships. Thus, George joined the pastoral staff of a Columbus, Ohio Church of God when looking for a place from which to offer people safe Haven.
When I met George at an Anderson, IN Christian Convention he was using the following acrostic as he worked at building bridges with people searching aimlessly, looking for a safe haven from the stormy living that left them stranded:
Help those in need
Value God’s grace
Encourage one another
Nurture spiritual gifts
Forgiveness opens the door to the only real safe haven available for restored relationships. Only in God’s Shalom is there hope for a miracle on our broken planet. Only in Christian circles can you find people like George who can guide you to such a haven.
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