|Selection of Dick Sheppards writing
|father forgive them
let us know
© Peace Pledge Union
|Were I in the presence of men and women who had never heard of Jesus Christ, I can imagine no greater appeal than to tell them that, when He whom we call Lord and Master was nailed to a Cross, He began an agony of three hours by asking that those who had nailed Him there might be forgiven - and more, by suggesting to God, Whom He called Father, that there was a reason for forgiveness: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Men would listen after that. Moral values never wholly forsworn would suggest that this man should be given a hearing.
You will sometimes see a crown gather round a speaker to hear his first word. If it appeals they will remain for more. We must all feel grateful that the first word we are allowed to repeat as we point the way to Christ crucified is as arresting as this, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Not in the lecture-room, or in the pulpit, is forgiveness here preached, but by a man in agony, more cruelly wronged and as dreadfully hurt as any who was ever done to death in France or Belgium or the world over. There was a crown of thorns on His head, nails tearing His flesh, and a crowd of sightseers making sport below. The kiss of Judas must have been smarting still, and worst of all, there was the agony in His mother's upturned face. At this moment He preached forgiveness and found a reason why those who hated Him and hurt His mother might be forgiven.
In all honesty, I cannot see how nations and peoples, professedly Christian, can continue their enmities in the face of this first word spoken by the Ideal to which they aspire and Whose teaching they profess to accept. I think it might be easily proved that in this, as in every respect, Christianity is also common sense.
A Dean of Durham not long ago said that there are certain people we can never forgive. Conceivably that attitude is possible for those who are not prepared to accept the tenets of Christianity. From the lips of a man who daily prays 'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us' it is a truly dreadful utterance. It is desperately hard to forgive some people some things, but a Christian exists to attempt what the world considers impossible. Left to ourselves we should much prefer to give a general forgiveness all round, exempting one or two who are really the 'limit' as if our dear Lord had prayed, 'Father, forgive everybody except Judas and the man who plaited the crown of thorns, and the man who drove in the nails.' It is indeed hard to forgive everyone who has trespassed against ours and us; it may take months of praying for a larger measure of love before we can place their names on our list of intercessions, but to determine that it can never, shall never, and ought never to be done is as disastrous to the soul of a Christian as it is to the world in which he lives.
The sin of separation is perhaps the most harmful of all the mean evils that stalk the world. Many of us keep it alive. We hug our hatreds to our breast, and nourish them while they prey on the hearts of men. The situation is complicated because so often we think we have forgiven - we are proud of our magnanimity - yet we have not forgiven in Christ's sense at all, all the while there is a mental reservation that never again can we be friends; it shall not be the same as it was. We have never discovered any excuse for forgiving our enemies, except that we are so generous.
There is no juggling to be done with our Lord's words about forgiveness. It has got to be of that kind that would desire to share Paradise with a criminal - seventy times seven is the minimum that must be measured to him who has offended. That is difficult; how well I know it. There is one man whom I am struggling hard to forgive, but only in a formal way as yet have I forgiven. I know I cannot be truly a disciple until I have done better than this. Also I know that 'He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.' He that hateth his brother is in the darkness and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whether he goeth because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. He that loveth not, knoweth no God, for God is Love. He that abideth in love abideth in God and God abideth in him.
And there is further consideration: I wonder sometimes whether we do not owe more than we realise to those who have hurt us. At least they have warned us of the pain that hatred and cruelty can inflict. The people whom the world accounts criminals have saved many another from crime, because they have heard or read the whole brutal tale of the hell that has been brought to those who love them.
Well might this great question of Christian forgiveness engage the attention of the statesmen of the world. The Treaty of Versailles has failed, as some said it would at the time, because there was no chair left vacant around the Conference table for the Peacemaker. The darkness of separation has fallen on many of the hopes of universal peace that clutched at the heart of humanity in November of 1918. It is hard for men today not to live in the Saturday which came between Good Friday and Easter morning. Everywhere the nations growl like sullen dogs on fragile chains, there is little trust and no Christian forgiveness. Europe looks as if it needs must re-group itself for another universal massacre. If we have lifted the cloud of our hatred from one nation, it is only to remove it to another. One would have thought that the so-called statesmen of the world would have come to realise by now that there can be no hope until each nation takes more than its own self-interest to the Council Chamber, until, indeed, it is willing to forgive with that full forgiveness that brings comradeship and the confidence and laughter that a friend shares with a friend. It is hard to see how the clouds can ever be dispelled until humanity stands bare-headed beneath the Cross of its Redeemer and hears Him cry, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.'