Sunday, February 6, 2011


Donald Miller once described forgiveness in a book (Father Fiction) as not holding another person accountability for the burden you carry. I liked that description. It doesn’t mean you won’t carry a weight or that your situation has not changed due to what happened, but it means you don’t hold someone accountable for it. Here’s another story.

The Empty Exchange
by Peter Rollins

Samuel and Luka had been lifelong friends. Their relationship stretched back to when they were both children and continued through adolescence into their adult years. But their friendship really deepened when, during the war, they fought side by side in the trenches.

Yet, when they returned from the war, they both fell in love with the same woman. Although she finally married Luka, Samuel continued to harbor his own deep feelings for her.

As time went on, Samuel’s parents were tragically killed, and he inherited his family’s estate. Although now a wealthy man, he found it hard to accept the death of his parents and sought emotional support from the one woman he had always loved.

Amidst the intensity of the circumstances, a brief affair ensued between Samuel and Luka’s wife. Unable to live with the secrecy of their actions, Samuel ended the affair and confessed all. Luka, devastated by the news, looked Samuel in the eyes and said, “Before God and all the heavenly hosts, I sweat to you now that I will never accept your apology.”

These words haunted Samuel for many years, for he felt awful about what he had done and yearned to be reconciled once more with his friend. Yet he understood the pain and heartache he had caused and knew that his friend was a man of his word. Samuel knew that his friend would remain true to his vow and would never accept Samuel’s offer of repentance, even if Luka now wanted to.

Yet after years of wrestling, he decided that it did not matter whether his apology was accepted or not. What mattered was that he approach his friend and express his sorrow. So, early one evening Samuel gathered his courage and went to Luka’s house. Upon seeing Luka, Samuel fell to the ground and cried out, “Old friend, I know that you cannot accept my apology because you made a solemn oath all those years ago. But I must tell you that there has not been a day when I have not been brought low by my actions. I have never been able to free myself from this pain, and I am truly sorry for what I did.”

Luka smiled with compassion, for over the years he had come to understand that those had been dark days for everyone, and that Samuel had been suffering from great depression. So he addressed his repentant friend saying, “I made a vow never to accept your apology, and I intend to keep my word. But seeing you like this makes such an apology superfluous. Indeed, if I were to accept your apology, then this would mean that I considered you to have intentionally hurt me--something that I know is not the case. So I reject your apology as unnecessary and thus keep my vow intact, not because I wish to continue our estrangement, but so that we can truly be reconciled as brothers once more.”

After this Samuel and Luka were reunited and went on to grow old together as friends and companions once more.

This story looks at reconciliation instead of forgiveness. Whereas forgiveness was a prerequisite for repentance in “The Unrepentant Son,” here, reconciliation involves the offering of repentance as a prerequisite. In other words, Luka needed to hear the apology to know that Samuel was sorry, but Luka’s rejection of the apology meant that he understood what Samuel was going through and the circumstances surrounding the actions. In rejecting the offered gift, their friendship is restored.

Now, I’ve experienced this personally. I have a friend who felt I treated her badly. I don’t actually agree that I did anything wrong, but I was truly sorry for my offenses and had I known the actions which I deemed harmless would offend I would never have done them. I was truly penitent. What did she do? She accepted my apology in full recognition that I was a bad person. She will still bring it up today though she has accepted my apology.

Contrastingly, when someone apologies for something that I completely understand and with whom I empathize I say “No apology needed,” or “Please, it’s fine,” or “You don’t need to apologize,” or “Really, it’s ok,” or “I’m the one who should apologize to you,” or many times “I didn’t even realize I was supposed to be mad or upset. Forget it, man.” I actually find myself rejecting the apology and our communion restored.

Forgiveness is hard. Reconciliation is harder.

Starting in 2003, the government of Rwanda released tens of thousands of genocide perpetrators who confessed to what they did. There was overcrowding of prisons and a backup of court cases, so this definitely was a factor in the decision to do this, but can you imagine a government doing such a massive release of prisoners? And prisoners of genocide? Yet they did. And these perpetrators went back to their home towns. . .

This one act created an intense situation in which forgiveness was forced on the table as an option between perpetrators and families of victims. Laura Waters Hinson, a DC filmmaker, produced a film while a graduate student. It’s called “As We Forgive.” In 2008, she won the Gold Prize in the Student Academy Awards for Best Documentary for “As We Forgive.” It chronicles the life of two women who are on two different journeys of reconciliation in the aftermath of the genocide.

Laura is a beautiful woman who was able to find stories of beauty in Africa, for which I’m grateful. Through the film and her own story, she’s taught me about forgiveness and reconciliation. Check out her clip. Listen to the entire clip especially the end when forgiveness becomes personal for her.
As We Forgive Interview

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