There has been a great international controversy over the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted for the Lockerbie disaster. The Scottish government released him on compassionate grounds. The decision has been widely discussed, questioned, and finally condemned or supported. Two years after he left prison the discussion came up again. The Scottish government maintains its position that compassion was the only reason behind the decision.
Personally I don’t have a strong opinion about this case, although I understand the arguments both of the supporters and their opponents. I understand both sides because all of us have had similar experiences: facing unfairness, infidelity or evil. Each one of us has come across a situation when we felt hurt, cheated, insulted, upset or whatever. And each one of us has had to ask him- or herself what to do, how to react.
Quite often the first thought that comes to mind is revenge, in one form or another. In some cultures members of a family may feel they have to avenge a wrong done to one of their own. Sometimes it turns into a conflict in which the people involved can no longer even remember where it started. In 1994 violence driven by ancient hatred and resentments led to the killing of 800,000 people – 20% of the Rwandan population – within one hundred days.
Hatred and revenge can cloud the human mind. They are based on negative emotions and they themselves feed negative emotions. It’s a self-driven madness that sometimes leads people to act mindlessly. Forgiveness is the only way to break this spiral. In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about forgiving each other from the heart. It’s puzzling that here Jesus doesn’t mention any criteria that have to be met – it seems that the forgiveness must be unconditional. On the other hand Jesus seems only to forgive sinners when they show remorse; he criticizes people who are stubborn in evil.
I personally think that there are two different sorts of forgiveness. The first one is needed by a wrong-doer and it’s fairly important for him or her. This kind of forgiveness is granted when someone admits an evil act and tries to redeem it – this is required by a fundamental idea of justice. The second kind of forgiveness has more to do with me. It is about rejecting any violent or vindictive attitude towards someone who hurt me. This kind of forgiveness sets me free from hatred and revenge. It requires my mind and my will working together despite all the negative emotions that I have the right to feel. Even though it may sound selfish, this kind of forgiveness is very important for me, regardless of my opponent. Because this forgiveness gives me peace of mind and a real advantage over the people who hurt me.