Friday, 03 December 2021

Learning to forgive in order to move on

THE week commencing May 17 brought some much-needed relaxation of the covid-19 restrictions. Once again we are allowed into pubs and restaurants, we can play indoor sport, greater numbers can attend funerals and weddings and families and friends can meet at home indoors.

Of course, with these freedoms come conditions to prevent a third wave of the virus and rightly so.

The months of lockdown, isolation, shielding for the vulnerable, the inability to meet and support family and friends will have saved lives but at a high cost to the mental health of many.

So the freedoms granted last week were most welcome. After all, humans are by nature sociable creatures and need social interaction to grow and prosper. Confinement is alien to us and gives rise to all sorts of problems.

As I write these thoughts, two items of news have caught my attention. They are totally disconnected.

The first was the conflict in Gaza and Israel, the senseless air strikes on both sides of the divide, the loss of life, life-changing injuries and so many buildings reduced to rubble.

The second was some statistics: the number of people turning to helplines set up to support people suffering from domestic abuse has increased considerably during lockdown. Some agencies in the United Kingdom have seen an increase of more than 48 per cent. Across the EU some report a 60 per cent uplift.

It is a sad fact of life that when people are confined to small spaces and their freedoms are curtailed, tensions rise, arguments develop and sometimes turn to violence, whether it be in countries, prisons or in the home. While we must never excuse violence, we can try to understand.

The current conflict between Arab and Jew in Palestine has rumbled on since  1948 and the latest outburst is one of many. The majority of the Arab population seems forced to live in the Gaza strip, an area the size of the Isle of Wight (population 141,000).  The Gaza Strip has a population of more than two million, trapped in what looks like no more than a pile of destruction.

The issues in the Middle East are complex and there is no doubt that there is fault on both sides.  What a family in Gaza and a family confined to a small flat in a high rise inner city development have in common is that both are “powder kegs” for conflict and violence.

A commentator on the Palestine conflict wrote last week that the people there needed to move on from the past and learn to live with what lay ahead. A gross over simplification, yes, but whether it be a conflict between two nations or conflict between those squeezed into cramped accommodation during lockdown, there is something that can be done to enable those trapped to “move on”.

Jesus taught his disciples a simple prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, which contained these words: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Neither a nation nor a struggling family can move on until they learn to forgive. This does not mean that past hurts must be forgotten or made light of, but no one can move on and away from what destroys relationships until we learn to forgive.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for God’s forgiveness for the hurt that we have inflicted and in doing so we have first to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent, not just by apologising but turning around and finding ways to mend a relationship, not destroy it.

For the Christian believer, we seek God’s forgiveness to enable us to move on, but whether we are people of the Christian faith, other faiths or none, Jesus’s words encouraging us to learn to forgive others can only stand us in good stead and help to bring about a less violent  world and maybe some peace, respect and understanding.

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