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At the height of World War II, Japanese forces attacked Singapore and captured British Officer Eric Lomax. Over the next few months, he was forced to work on the deadly Burma-Siam railway. Every night Lomax and his fellow prisoners planned their escape: creating maps, building a radio and storing food. But before they could make their attempt, they were discovered.
As punishment, the Japanese soldiers brutally tortured Lomax. At each session, a translator was present – his name: Nagase Takashi. For Lomax, this man became the voice of the enemy. And in his heart, he swore that one day, he would make him pay.
Fifty years later, Lomax got his chance.
Nagase had published a book recounting the atrocities he had committed during the war. It was the first step in a journey that would ultimately lead Lomax back to Japan, where he would come face-to-face with his torturer.
As the two met, Nagase bowed. He had tears streaming down his face and was only able to speak these words: “I’m sorry.” Over the next few days, the men talked and listened to one another. And before Lomax returned home, he gave Nagase a letter. This is what it said: “Although I can’t forget the ill treatment – taking into account your change of heart, your apologies, the work you are doing, please accept my total forgiveness.”
Isn’t that a powerful concept? Total forgiveness? It’s one of the things that we all need. But it’s also one of the most difficult virtues to foster. It seems to go against our fallen nature. We hold onto our wounds – hoping that by doing this, somehow justice will be done. But clinging to these emotions isn’t how we’re called to live as Christians.
Paul wrote this in Ephesians: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
While it can be difficult to let go of our hurts and pains, we know that in Christ, we have a sympathetic high priest who has suffered alongside us. He knows each of our wounds and is willing to take them from us – if we only let him. And he not only takes them but also undoes them, so that they are made to contribute to our eternal benefit—by sharing in Christ’s own crucifixion and resurrection. Although Eric Lomax might not have known it, when he forgave Nagase Takashi, he was actively participating in Christ’s divine mission, extending the healing grace of our Creator God to the world.