“I forgive the hands of the people who had a hand in my son’s murder—either before or after—and I pray and hope that some day everybody out there will forgive them also.” So said Ursula Ward less than an hour after a jury convicted former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez of killing her son.
She added, “I will never have a grandchild from my son or grandchildren. I will never get to dance at his wedding.” She told the packed courtroom, “The day I laid my son Odin Lloyd to rest I felt my heart stop beating for a moment. I felt like I wanted to go into that hole with my son.” Nonetheless, the grieving mother has chosen to forgive the man convicted of his murder.
Nouman Masih was a 15-year-old Christian living in Pakistan. According to a prominent Pakistani human rights attorney, Nouman was walking to work when he was approached by two Muslim men. They asked if he was a Muslim or a Christian. He told them he was a Christian. They beat him, chased him down, doused him in kerosene, and set him on fire. He died last week.
British Pakistani Christian Association Chairman Wilson Chowdhry told reporters that Nouman forgave his killers, but also wanted them caught: “He just said that he forgave them. . . . but he didn’t want his attackers to prevail and enact their crimes on anybody else. He was just being very magnanimous in a Christian way saying, ‘I have forgiven them but I want them to go through the justice system.'”
Who has hurt you most recently? Most deeply? What can Nouman Masih and Ursula Ward teach us about forgiveness? Consider three facts.
One: forgiveness is complicated. Ursula Ward could extend unconditional forgiveness to Aaron Hernandez because he had already been sentenced to life in prison without parole, and would never again threaten her fellow citizens. By contrast, Nouman Masih wisely knew that his murderers would likely kill again. While he forgave them personally, he wanted the justice system to keep them from attacking more Christians.
Forgiveness is not excusing the person who hurt you or pretending your pain does not exist. (Tweet this) To forgive is to choose not to punish personally. But there are times when those who hurt you must face the consequences of their actions, lest they hurt others as well.
Two: forgiveness frees the one who forgives. Researchers have linked forgiveness to higher functioning cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. When we forgive, we make ourselves, not the person who hurt us, responsible for our happiness.
Three: when we forgive, the world takes note. Nouman Masih and Ursula Ward would probably not have generated headlines if they had not forgiven murderers. Our ministry exists to help Christians change their culture—there is no more powerful witness than to imitate Jesus’ decision to forgive.
C. S. Lewis notes, “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”