Forgiveness & Peacemaking

I am not very good about forgiving people who have hurt me. Sometimes the pain is deep and when the hurt comes from someone you are close to, it is especially difficult to handle emotionally. One powerful lesson that Jesus taught his followers was the importance of forgiveness, a lesson I need to keep relearning. Being able to forgive is an essential quality for peacemakers.

Rembrandt’s “The Denial of Peter”

Do you remember when Jesus is in the Upper Room, during the days before his arrest and execution, and tells his disciples that “one of you will betray me”? Later that evening, Peter boldly declares that he would lay down his life for Jesus. But Jesus tells him that “the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times.”

Following Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, his beloved disciple Peter does indeed deny he knows Jesus, not once, but three times as predicted, out of fear for his own life. How painful that must have been for Jesus to have one of his closest friends betray him!

Jesus Eats With His Disciples
at the Sea of Galilee
After his resurrection, the third time Jesus met with his disciples was when they had breakfast together on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. During their breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” Here is Peter, who had boldly stated he would lay down his life for Jesus and then shortly thereafter denied he even knew him three times. But Jesus restores his relationship with Peter. He asks him three times if Peter loves him and then makes it clear that he is forgiven by inviting Peter to “Follow me.” Do you think Peter got the message, especially the third time Jesus questions him? What an incredible act of forgiveness!

So What?
  • On a personal level, we all know this, right? Unless we are willing to forgive someone who we think has wronged us, a healthy friendship with that person is not possible. Jesus teaches us to be people who forgive others, just as God forgives us for our sins. That is a key part of the Lord’s Prayer – “forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.”
  • Another important lesson to be learned here relates to how the lack of forgiveness on the part of the person who has been hurt keeps them a victim with continuing anger and bitterness. God knows this and instructs us to forgive because he wants our lives to be full of joy and peace – an inner Shalom.
  • In our broken, violent world, forgiveness is an important beginning for any healing to take place on a national level. We saw this in South Africa, when after years of apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to bring together the various racial communities of this country, to share their personal stories of what had happened – to tell the truth, but to also forgive those who had done wrong. It began the difficult process of healing.
  • In many autocratic regimes where much violence has been perpetrated by the ruling elites on the majority of the population, there have never been apologies by anyone accepting responsibility for past or current injustices. A healthy, just society can never be built on the basis. In the early 1970s, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote an essay in which he said that Russians needed to stop blaming others for their troubles and start searching for their own errors and sins. Then they needed to ask for forgiveness because repentance “is the only starting point for spiritual growth.” The same challenge applies to the countries in the Middle East who are wrestling with popular opposition movements.
  • The importance of forgiveness and its relationship to peacemaking has application on the personal, national and international levels. Can you think of some examples in your own life where, if you forgave a friend for something that they did that hurt you, a relationship could be restored? Just do it!