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Should nations forgive each other?

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (left) looks on at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, Israel, on September 15, 2010 (Credit: United States State Department)

Bishop T. D. Jakes recently wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post in which he stated, “Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for your perpetrator to die.”  He wisely noted that “unforgiveness incarcerates the victim with absolutely no impact on the injuring party.”  Refusing to forgive only hurts the one who has been hurt.

How does forgiveness apply to nations?

Regional and international conflicts continue to make global headlines.  After Syria shot down a Turkish jet on June 22, NATO has been in emergency meetings to craft a response.  Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 25; Putin said that the two will continue work to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran through peaceful means.

How are nations to forgive each other?

Let’s begin by defining “forgiveness.”  Forgiveness is not forgetting the wrong that was done.  It is not excusing wrong behavior, pretending the injury did not occur, or tolerating evil.  You may have to tolerate employers or family members, but that doesn’t mean you’ve forgiven them.

To forgive is to pardon—to choose not to punish.  When a governor pardons a criminal, she does not forget about the crime, excuse it, pretend it did not occur, or tolerate it.  Rather, she chooses not to punish the criminal.

Why pardon those who have hurt us?  Because pardon breaks the cycle of vengeance.  “An eye for an eye” is a rapid way to a sightless world, as Frederick Buechner reminds us.  It stops the personal pain—as Lewis Smedes noted, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”  And for Christians, pardon demonstrates the reality of Christ’s love in ours (John 13:35).

Defined as pardon, forgiveness is then possible between nations.  For Israel to forgive Hamas for the rockets that were launched against her territory last week is to choose not to punish.  It doesn’t mean that Israel would not defend herself or take steps to prevent Hamas from continuing such aggression.  But it does mean that Israel would not seek vengeance, an act that would only perpetrate the cycle of violence.

Pardon enables nations to rebuild relations and a better future.  Punishment exacerbates the pain.  The choice a nation makes reveals its character and shapes its destiny.  As Mahatma Gandhi reminded us, “The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

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