Many reacted negatively at the absolute pardon granted by the President to Joseph Scott Pemberton who brutally killed Jennifer Laude six years ago. Some high-ranking government officials hailed the President’s action as “a personal act of forgiveness and clemency,” but the family of Jennifer and human rights advocates do not see it that way.
One supporter of Jennifer’s family said: “It is easy for the President to forgive because he was not the one who was hurt. Would he be that merciful to a criminal if the victim were his daughter or son?”
So, although the government has already deemed the case closed, one wonders whether there will ever be a closure for the Laude family and those who sympathize with them. The presidential pardon might just have made it more difficult for the Laude family to forgive Pemberton.
Let’s face it, forgiving someone who has deeply hurt us is difficult. I remember the story of a woman named Anita whose husband abandoned her and their child. For seven years, he never once visited Anita or sent money for their child. Being a strong woman, Anita moved on.
One day, her husband showed up. He told her he had become a member of a Christian group, got converted, and now begged her to resume their relationship. Anita expected him to apologize then show remorse for what he had done. But he didn’t seem interested in doing this, so Anita refused to take him back. She said: “At this point in my life, I don’t feel like forgiving you. It’s like giving you a license to hurt me again.”
Anita reminds me of another woman, Corrie ten Boom. After surviving unspeakable torture and humiliation in a Nazi concentration camp in Ravensbruck, Germany, Corrie became a great Christian preacher. One day after she delivered a sermon on God’s forgiveness, a man approached her and said: “I was a guard there in Ravensbruck, but after the war, I became a Christian. I ask you to forgive me for what I have done to you.”
Corrie froze. This was the cruel and heartless guard who had tortured her and even caused the death of her sister. As he stood before her, begging for pardon, she felt ashamed that after having preached about forgiveness, she still could not say the words: “I forgive you.”
Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian, was kidnapped in September, 2015. He endured a terrible ordeal at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf for nearly a year.” Starved and tortured, he saw how two of his companions were beheaded. Luckily for him, his family paid the ransom before his scheduled execution. Upon his release, he told reporters: “I believe that no matter how bad people are, there is still something good in them. But these kidnappers are an exception. It would take a long time before I could forgive them.”
Our gospel reading today commands us to forgive those who have wronged us (Matthew 18:21-35). But many of us are in the same situation as Anita, Corrie, Kjartan, or the Laude family. Forgiveness is still difficult for us to do. Let us take consolation from the fact that when Jesus hanged on the cross, surrounded by people who wanted Him dead, He did not say: “I forgive you.” He said instead: “Father, forgive them.”
So, if you are disturbed by your inability to forgive, turn to God and pray: “Father, be the one to forgive them because right now, I cannot honestly do so. With your grace, heal the hurt and the pain that linger in my heart, so I may one day find the strength and the courage to say: ‘I forgive.’”