Forgiveness: To what extent?
We, as Christians, should be able to grant forgiveness, but to what extent are we truly capable of doing it?
In today’s world in which people are so easily offended, we are under an almost constant barrage of news reports or social media comments about words or actions that are quickly followed by apologies and explicit or implied requests for forgiveness. Quite often, forgiveness is expressed and the world moves on. But, frankly, the majority of these instances occur over hurt feelings for what many of us think should be nothing more than a difference of opinion.
What about extending forgiveness for something that would really make people sit up and take notice? For example, if your brother were murdered, could you forgive his killer or would anger, hate and resentment be a permanent part of your life?
Recently, I read about a man who did this. He forgave his brother’s killer and is now working with the man following his release from prison after serving 20 years.
In an interview Anthony Colon said that after his older brother, who “would stand up for me whatever happened,” was gunned down in East Harlem he struggled with rage that lasted for years and bore anger that wore him down. “It just put so much hate in my life,” he said. “I hated everybody. I hated everything.”
As the years passed, his fog of anger lifted. He married, had two children, and said he welcomed religion into his life. In the process he became overwhelmed by a desire to find reconciliation with his brother’s killer. “I just wanted it to be OK,” he said.
One summer day while visiting a friend in the Eastern Correctional Facility in Ulster County, NY, Anthony had a chance encounter that changed his life. Across the room he saw Michael Rowe, one of the men who had murdered his brother. Rowe, who said he had been unable to forgive himself for the murder, saw Anthony and feared retaliation. Instead, Anthony walked up to Michael and said, “Brother, I’ve been praying for you. I forgave you. I’ve been praying I would see you again.”
Michael had married the girl he was dating when he went to prison and they had three children during his imprisonment. He had earned an associate’s degree and then a bachelor’s. He began studying for a master’s degree and Anthony began visiting him in prison. On graduation day, Anthony surprised Michael by coming to put the robe on him.
“Anthony is my hero,” Michael said. “I have two sons, and if my sons grow up to be half the man that Anthony Colon is, I will be an incredibly proud father. And I don’t know if I can sum it up or explain any better than that how I feel about Anthony Colon. He has changed my life.”
Anthony credited his religious faith for pushing him to forgive Michael, who recently was released from prison. Anthony is helping Michael cope with life beyond prison and said he hopes they can both put an end to 20 years of pain.
Surely, few, if any, actions that have caused anger or pain for you or me reach the level that Anthony experienced. With faith, he was able to forgive. For me, and I hope for you, that raises a key question: Do I have the faith to truly forgive, no matter the extent of the wrong I have experienced?