The idea of forgiving such people seems not only impossible, but impossibly naive. "How?" we ask ourselves. "Why?" And yet the challenge of forgiveness stands at the crossroads of our developing relationship with God. If we study Jesus' prayer life and how he taught His followers to pray, He said "(Father) forgive us our trespasses (sins) as we forgive those who trespass (sin) against us."
A young woman named Immaculee Ilibagiza, survivor of the genocide in Rwanda (in Africa) in 1994 during which almost a million people were murdered in three months, lost over half her family. Her father, mother, two brothers, and numerous other relatives were murdered. She and six young women hid in a small bathroom, its entrance hidden by a huge wardrobe. Through the bathroom window came the voices of bands of killers hunting for the women, calling their names. The horrific sounds of hapless victims being murdered.
Immaculee kept sane by silently praying her rosary, over and over, but her heart still seethed with hatred for these men who were murdering their own neighbors, innocent men, women, and children, raping women and children, simply because they were from a different tribe. Even though both tribes spoke the same language, had the same customs, practiced the same religions. Socialized, worked, played together, lived in houses side by side. Hutus murdered Tutsis because simmering feuds and injustices that members of the Hutu and Tutsi tribes had perpetrated on each other for decades finally came to a head. Propaganda spread by scheming politicians turned peaceful neighborhoods into war zones.
Immaculee's silent prayers in the small bathroom, her only refuge, felt hollow. There was a war going on in her soul. It was easy to pray for the victims, and the people trying to escape death. But she would try to pray for the killers and then ended up praying for them to die. She asked God for justice, but she could not forgive them, could not believe that they deserved forgiveness: "Why do You expect the impossible from me?"
One night she and the other women heard the killers slaughter a mother and leave her infant to die. Immaculee asked God to receive the infant's innocent soul, and cried out in anger to God "How can I forgive people who would do such a thing to an infant?
God's answer came as clearly as if she were sitting in the same room with Him:
"You are ALL my children...and the baby is with Me now."
Immaculee suddenly realized "The killers were like children..Yes, they were barbaric creatures who would have to be punished severely for their actions, but they were still children... They saw, but didn't understand, the terrible harm they'd inflicted. They'd blindly hurt others without thinking, they'd hurt their Tutsi brothers and sisters, they'd hurt God - and they didn't understand how badly they were hurting themselves. Their minds had been infected with the evil that had spread across the country, but their souls weren't evil. Despite their atrocities, they were children of God, and I could forgive a child, although it would not be easy...especially when that child was trying to kill me."
She knew the killers were part of God's family; she couldn't ask God to love her, if she was unwilling to love these others who were also His children.
She began to pray for the killers to repent, for their sins to be forgiven. Holding on to her rosary she asked God to help her as she prayed and she heard a Voice repeating Jesus' words on the cross " Forgive them; they know not what they do." For the first time during her ordeal, she pitied those who had murdered her family, murdered the hopes of her nation, wanted to murder her.
That night, for the first time since Immaculee had sought refuge in the bathroom, she slept in peace.
The people in our lives who hurt us, almost to the point of killing us, are often relatives, co-workers, sometimes friends - often those we see on a regular basis, or else they have separated themselves from us. Can we remember that they are spiritually lost children? Can we ask God to help us along the long difficult road of learning to look at them with the mind and heart of Christ instead of with our own minds and hearts that are shriveled with hurt and hate?
It's the only way we can sleep with a clear conscience. Sleep in peace.
Immaculee travels the world with her story. She has written it down in:
"Left to Tell," by Immaculee Ilibagiza, Hay House Inc. Publisher.