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The Life Transforming Power of Forgiveness

The story of Ray and Vi Donovan is remarkable. In 2001 their son, Chris, was murdered. Chris and his brother Phil were attacked by a gang of youths. They kicked and stamped on Chris’s head and left him in the middle of a four-lane road. A car came over the hill and ran over Chris, dragging him 40 feet down the road. At the hospital the doctors were unable to save Chris’s life.

Vi’s immediate response was to run out of the door. She was very angry and wanted to find her son’s killers and to “do to them what they had done to Chris.” Ray fell to his knees screaming. Three teenage boys were found guilty of Chris’s murder. During the court case Vi remembers the look of pain and shame etched on the faces of the boys’ parents. She realised that everyone had lost; things would never be the same for any of them.

Several years later, one of the young men contacted Ray and Vi asking to meet them to say sorry. A meeting was not allowed at that time, but Ray and Vi wrote to all three young men telling them that they had forgiven them and that they hoped to meet them one day. In July 2011, after the young man had completed his sentence, a meeting was arranged.

Ray and Vi had many questions including why he had left Chris in the middle of a busy road. He told them he had heard sirens and thought the police were coming so ran away. He said that he had been a fifteen year old coward and now he couldn’t get Chris out of his heart. Ray and Vi hugged him and said he was forgiven. He whispered his thanks. Ray said, “My wife and I left that meeting feeling like a weight had been lifted. Just hearing the words ‘I’m sorry’ is a start to moving forward. For us it was a life changing event.”

Saying “Sorry” is something we all find very difficult, but forgiveness is a very powerful thing. Jesus was a young man who was unjustly executed. When he was nailed to the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Since that time millions of people, from many nations, have honestly faced up to their sinful lives. As they have come to God through Jesus they have experienced his forgiveness. It is always a life changing event.

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When we say, “I’m sorry.”

It is never easy for any of us to say, “I’m sorry.” We don’t like to admit that we have done wrong and need to seek forgiveness. Recently Rupert Murdoch has apologised to the family of Milly Dowler for things done by a News of the World employee in the hours immediately following Milly’s disappearance. A private investigator employed by the paper hacked into Milly’s phone and even deleted some messages to make room for more recordings, giving false hope to the family that the 13 year old was still alive. Mr Murdoch has personally apologised to Milly’s family and offered to donate a very large sum of money to a charity of their choice.

There is something very powerful in a heartfelt and genuine apology. It is creative and offers the possibility of a new beginning. So why do we find it so hard to say we are sorry? One reason is our pride. We don’t like to admit our mistakes to anyone; we prefer to make excuses or to blame somebody else. In some parts of the world there are shame cultures which encourage people to go to great lengths to avoid any loss of face. So it is a significant thing when a very rich and powerful man publically says, “I’m sorry”, and shows his sorrow by his actions. Perhaps you need to put right a relationship with someone by going to them and saying, “I’m sorry.”

Jesus once met a man named Zacchaeus and went to his house for a meal. Zacchaeus was a very rich tax collector. The Jewish people hated tax collectors because they had betrayed their own people by working for the Romans, who occupied their country. Many tax collectors were dishonest and collected far more tax than the Romans required. Because of this they became social outcasts.

This encounter with Jesus brought about a great change in Zacchaeus’s life. He said to Jesus, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Do you need to make peace with God by asking for his forgiveness? Why not do it today? God promises forgiveness and salvation to all who confess their sins. He promises to forgive our sins and to remember them no more.