FORGIVE? HOW MUCH?
by David Sisler
She stands on the top of a hill overlooking the Volga River. Towering over the Volgograd landscape, a statute of "Mother Russia" calls her children to her protection. A sword is held high in her right hand; her left stretches back, beckoning to her defenders.
In June, 1993, I stood at the foot of that colossal monument, which marks the site of the bloodiest fighting of what may have been the bloodiest battle of World War II. I stared into the eternal flame and wrote my name in the book of memories.
At the Battle of Stalingrad (as the city was then known) the Red Army lost a million soldiers, the attacking Germans lost 200,000. Only one of the city's original buildings still stands from those days, 55 years ago, and it is a shattered hulk, a memorial to the honored dead. At one small park, overlooking the Volga, local residents told me that all of the ground where we were standing had been covered in blood.
In recent days local authorities in Volgograd halted construction of a cemetery which had been planned to hold the remains of 60,000 to 90,000 German soldiers who had died there. A local spokesman said the government had "received many complaints from local people who despised the idea of German soldiers being buried in the same place where Russian soldiers died."
Should we forgive such offenses as the Nazi invasion? And if so, how much?
In Kenya and Tanzania the death toll continues to rise from the embassy bombings. The first shocking reports headlined 52 dead. Then the numbers began to crawl upwards in a slow, horrifying trail of death — 71, 83, 146, 210. As of this writing the number of known dead from the simultaneous attacks is 230. And there will be more.
"The bombings," wrote Edith M. Lederer for the Associated Press, "just a few minutes and 450 miles apart, turned busy streets in two African capitals into bloody piles of concrete and knots of steel."
Almost 5,000 injured people overwhelmed local hospitals. Friends and family members searched through hospitals, finally ending at local morgues as they looked for loved ones. Stories of grief and suffering filled news reports as Kenya and Tanzania staggered under their first large-scale attack of international terrorism.
Julian Bartley, Sr., the Nairobi embassy's consul general, and his son, Jay, a college student who was working there for the summer, were two of the dead. Edith Bartley knew early on that she had lost her brother. Sunday afternoon, she discovered her father had been killed. Her mother, Sue, learned their fates shortly thereafter.
Should Sue Bartley forgive the murderers who made her a widow and snuffed out the life of her son? What about Edith? Should she forgive? If so, how much?
In August, 1997, Jo and Michael Pollard, of Yorkshire, England, went to Romania to deliver toys to Christian families. On one leg of the trip, they parked their camper in a rest area and turned in for the night. While they were sleeping, three Hungarian men beat and robbed Jo and Michael. Michael died of heart failure after the beating.
The Pollards, who had served as pastors of Emmanuel Evangelical Church, had gone with love and compassion to reach out to people in need. Senselessly, needlessly, they were beaten. Michael died. Should Jo forgive? If so, how much?
If I had been given editorial privilege over the Bible, I would have used my red pen and inked out Mark 11:26 — "If you do not forgive the hurt others have done to you, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses against Him."
With the proper motivation, I can be a great grudge-holder, and that verse works against my natural inclination. But I was not given the option to delete it (although some modern Bible translations try to dilute its impact by making it only a footnote). If I do not forgive, if you do not forgive, we plug up the channel of forgiveness between ourselves and God. I may not like it, you may not like it, but there it is and we must deal with it.
Jo Pollard recently went to the prison where her husband's murderers are incarcerated and told them, "I am a Christian and God put these words into my mouth: 'I have love for you and I have forgiven you.'"
Forgive? How much? Look at the Cross where Jesus died. That's how much.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 8/15/98
Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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