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Peace on Earth? Goodwill to Men?

December 09, 2008
By Catherine Larson

I recorded CNN's "Scream Bloody Murder," a recently released documentary on genocide by reporter, Christiane Amanpour, and watched it last night. Here's a look at the film.

The documentary isn't easy to watch--but it's important. It chronicles parts of our recent history that we'd just as soon choose not to remember. The barbarism that humans are capable of is something few of us want to be reminded of. And yet as columnist, Tom Shales, of The Washington Post, writes in his review of the documentary, "Some may find the program tough to take at holiday time, but in fact it seems especially powerful during a season in which 'peace on Earth' and 'good will toward men' are being extolled from street corners." Its hard to comprehend the two notions together: peace on earth and genocide. Is peace possible after genocide? Is peace possible in a world where people brutally kill children, rape women, and do the unthinkable?

That's one of the reasons that compelled me to explore the rumors of forgiveness I was hearing about in Rwanda. If peace is possible after one of the most brutal massacres in history, then perhaps it is possible in the smaller rifts that pull us apart in our every day lives.

Even this film, Scream Bloody Murder, devoted to the history of genocide, can't help but wonder aloud at the forgiveness occurring today in Rwanda. Amanpour interviews a Rwandan woman who now hosts the man who killed her family at her table. She can do this because she has forgiven him. Amanpour skeptically asked, "How is this possible?" The woman did not apologize for her seemingly simple response: "I am a Christian."

Is this some delusional response to the horrors of genocide? Isn't forgiveness saying that what happened didn't matter? Not at all. For someone to accept the forgiveness of another, is to accept the implicit accusation within that forgiveness. It is to accept the guilt of one's actions and turn from them.

Isn't forgiveness, then letting offenders off the hook? Isn't it an invitation for more wrongdoing to occur? Forgiveness is not incompatible with justice. Forgiveness doesn't take away the consequences or the pain of the offense. Wrong may re-occur. That's a real risk. But vengeance is also a risk. Hate is a risk.

What's the point of forgiveness then? If we hope for a world in which "peace on earth" is possible, it will not happen without forgiveness. Peace after all is not simply the absence of conflict. Peace is shalom: the sum total of human flourishing. It means man in right relationship with fellow man. It means flourishing physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and otherwise. True peace happens when survivors and victims begin to experience emotional healing. It happens when those things which can be restored are restored. It happens when a man or woman capable of the worst atrocities has a transformation of the heart. It happens when that offender admits guilt, accepts responsibility, and seeks to repair whatever can still be restored. It happens when that offender changes into the kind of man or woman who rebuilds rather than tears down the world. And most of all, it happens when true trust and goodwill and care can be forged in places where it was broken or in places where it wasn't before.

Is peace possible? We don't see it everywhere, but in those places where we do see brave men and women forging it, it gives us hope for a different kind of world, and for a different kind of tomorrow. I want to look into the eyes of grace if only to believe in that kind of possibility.


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