The God who reconciles us to himself

At 2.54am on 12 October 1984 an IRA bomb exploded in The Grand Hotel, Brighton. It was the week of the Conservative Party Conference and the intended target was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She was not injured, but 5 people were killed and 34 were taken to hospital. Margaret Tebbit, the wife of Norman, was left paralysed. She spent nearly a year being treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and another year at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital at Stanmore before returning to her home. For the past 30 years she and her husband have lived daily with the devastating personal consequences of that bomb.

The Brighton bombing and more recent events in Iraq and Syria remind us of the potential for great evil in human beings. The bombers carefully planned the atrocity in cold blood; just as Alan Henning was executed by IS militants in cold blood. The IRA statement claiming responsibility for the Brighton bombing said, “Mrs Thatcher will now realise that Britain cannot occupy our country and torture our prisoners and shoot our people in their own streets and get away with it. Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always. Give Ireland peace and there will be no more war.”

The reference to “getting away with it” implies that people have a right to commit any kind of atrocity as “pay back” for the actions of those whom they hate and in pursuit of their cause. It fails, however, to recognise that God has created us all as morally accountable beings. None of us ultimately “gets away with it.” Death does not pay all debts. The New Testament says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

The survivors of acts of atrocity are sometimes asked whether they can forgive the perpetrators. Norman Tebbit, in a very moving article about his and his wife’s experience over the past 30 years, has said that forgiveness is not possible because the bombers have not repented and justice has not been done. This takes us to the heart of the Christian message. In his Son, Jesus, God reconciled a sinful world to himself. His divine justice was satisfied when his Son died for our sins and so opened the way for each of us to repent and be forgiven. As one hymn says, “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”


God forgives and forgets

The death of Margaret Thatcher has stirred strong feelings for and against her and the very great influence she had when she was Prime Minister. She was removed from office not through losing a general election, but by a leadership challenge from her own MPs. Some of her cabinet colleagues played a key role in this and made it clear they thought she should step down. She was deeply hurt by what happened through what she described as “treachery with a smile.” In an interview some years later she said, “I will never forget, I will never forgive.” It is not known whether she reflected on this before she died.

The greatest act of treachery in history was the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. It was “treachery with a kiss.” Judas was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, the Twelve. It seems he was disappointed that Jesus had not taken political power on a wave of popular support. So he made an agreement with the religious leaders to betray Jesus for 30 silver coins.

While Jesus and his disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane Judas came with a crowd of soldiers and religious leaders. In the darkness he betrayed Jesus into the hands of his enemies with the words, “Greetings Rabbi!” and a kiss. Later when he saw Jesus had been condemned he was seized with remorse. He returned the 30 silver coins and said, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Then he hanged himself.

The response of Jesus to Judas, and to those who plotted to kill him, is very striking. In the upper room, before Judas went out to betray him, Jesus appealed to him not to do it. It was an appeal of love which, tragically, Judas did not heed. The first words Jesus spoke while he hung on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

An unforgiving spirit, which dwells on the past and harbours resentment, creates deep inner bitterness. It is good for us all to reflect on our own failings. None of us is without fault. When we become conscious of our own failings we are humbled and are better able to understand the actions of others. It also brings us to the point where, as we realise our own need for forgiveness, we can rejoice in God’s promise in Jesus, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”