Recently I saw the movie Unbroken. This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an American soldier who was shot out of the sky in WWII and survived on a raft in shark-infested waters for 47 days. When he was finally discovered, it was by the Japanese, who took him to a POW camp. There, he became the favorite victim of a sadistic officer called Bird, who took a special interest in torturing him until the end of the war. The movie ends there, but I’m told that the book goes on to describe Mr. Zamperini’s struggles with PTSD after the war, and finally, his conversion to Christ. He would eventually return to Japan to meet and forgive his captors.
As a matter of fact, one hears WWII reconciliation stories between Americans and Japanese fairly frequently (at least in my line of work). It appears there’s been a great deal of healing and forgiveness on both sides, which is a beautiful thing.
But let’s be honest–forgiving someone who’s intentionally hurt you is not easy. Even watching the movie, I found that Bird reminded me strongly of someone I know, and I began to feel angry and hateful until I reminded myself that, like Mr. Zamperini, I needed to forgive.
It’s a blurry line, sometimes, between forgiving and enabling, one that I’ve struggled to clarify since returning to the Church. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to acknowledge one’s pain, sadness and anger at being mistreated. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be assertive in order to put an end to abuse. I think where the trouble starts is when the bitterness and desire for revenge creep in.
Isn’t it the most maddening thing to picture one’s enemy laughing gleefully and getting away with everything in the end? But as a Catholic, I’ve come to realize that’s impossible. Everyone will face their sins eventually. Either they will repent of them and be forgiven, or they will be punished for them. There is no gleeful “getting away with it.”
When I think of my sins, how I regret them, and how overwhelmingly grateful I am to God for giving me a second chance, I find that I would sincerely wish for that same forgiveness to be extended to my enemies should they come to repentance. And I would much rather see my enemies repent and become the loving people God intended them to be, than to see them choose evil and suffer for it.
These are the things I want to remember as I strive to become a forgiving person.