Trying to Understand Forgiveness – An Easter Message
By TLB Contributing Author: James N. Miller II
The year was 1975. I was touring Northern California as an entertainer, musician, and speaker. A young man approached me wanting to talk. He and I were nearly the same age — middle twenties.
He had been a Green Beret and had just returned from fighting in Vietnam. A soldier who was “good enough” and “tough enough” to qualify as a Green Beret was considered to be “one of America’s best,” as proclaimed in Sgt. Barry Sadler’s ‘70s hit single entitled “Ballad of the Green Berets.” These men were known as professional, durable, efficient fighting machines who commonly risked their lives for those oppressed.
This unassuming, articulate, and quiet young man did not seem to fit the mold. Nothing about him looked dangerous.
But to this day, I cannot write his story without being stirred. The memory of my encounter with him evokes in me both pride and sorrow. This “one of America’s best” was falling apart, and I had no idea what to say to him.
His instructors had taught him he must hate the enemy to survive. Hate, hate, hate; it was drilled into him over and over. When split-second decisions had to be made, it was easier if you hated your enemy, so he was instructed. On the battlefield, he had done his job. He had followed orders and had been cited for bravery by his superior officers.
But after his honorable discharge, he began fighting the toughest battle of his life. “When I was a soldier,” he said, “hating the enemy helped me overcome fear. I did what I was commanded, and I did it well. Now I am back home, not at war anymore, but the hate won’t go away. In ‘Nam, I could channel the anger toward my enemy, but now I have no enemy to fight. What am I supposed to do with the hate?”
He had no desire to hate or hurt anyone — this young hero. He was a “Christian,” he said, and had grown up in the church. Now, his deeds haunted him. Anger ruled his thoughts, and I could find no words to ease his pain.
I’m not a trained therapist, but I am a good listener. Others with similar stories have sought me out over the years, and I’ve learned that just listening without being judgmental can sometimes be the strongest medicine. In all these encounters, however, one principle has become crystal clear to me; peace and hatred cannot occupy the same human heart.
So how does one overcome hatred, anger, rage?
What would I say today if I could speak to the young Green Beret again? I would say that once upon a time another young man who spoke only of the love of God and who went about doing good, was tortured beyond measure, as if he were a ruthless criminal. If any man ever had reason to hate . . .
But standing nearby, the enemy commanding officer heard these words clearly: “Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” This officer, a Roman Centurion, later declared, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”
Why would a hardened, professional Roman Centurion say that? Was it because he knew it was impossible for a mortal to forgive under those circumstances?
Jesus told His followers to forgive as He did. What was He thinking? Didn’t He know how weak we are when it comes to forgiving? True believers point out that Jesus also promised to fill His followers with a love so powerful, so supernatural it could change the heart, thereby making it possible to forgive. They would further add that His resurrection proves He is able to keep this promise. They conclude that if Jesus’ resurrection is a hoax, the world has no hope, for no other power exists that is strong enough to cure the hate problem.
With Easter upon us, we’re reminded that the resurrection of Jesus is the most significant claim of Christianity. I personally know believers who have indeed found the power to love and forgive under “impossible” circumstances. Were they in fact enabled by a supernatural power imparted to them by a resurrected Christ? Or is Christianity just another religion which has no power to bring real peace to the human heart?
Over the coming weeks, I will look at some hard questions for which modern culture begs answers. How does one balance forgiveness with seeking justice? How does one decide between “turning the other cheek” and defending oneself, one’s family, or one’s country?
I’m honored to be a new contributor to The Liberty Beacon Project. My interests concern matters of the heart, my own opinions not intended to reflect an official position of this publication. I welcome your comments.
James N. Miller is the Creator of The Cody Musket Story