On Forgiveness

Some time ago my wife came across four extraordinary videos – one man’s testimony about FORGIVING.  Shortly after a small group at church were discussing the subject and I wanted to share the videos, but they were in Afrikaans!  I tackled the job of translating them and here is the first two.  This is number two and three of the videos, but it is the sequence in which we watched them and it made a big impact on me.

(When I am done with all four, I am going to try and dub them with English subscripts.)

Here then is Pieter Badenhorst telling his story:

God had to teach me the principle of forgiveness in a very practical manner.
The terrible part of my story is that I preached many a Sunday to people that they had to forgive each other, forgive their enemies, love their enemies, while in practice I did not really understand any of it.

My story happened in the early nineties, one December when we were on vacation at the coast. It was a Sunday morning.  The phone rang and it was my brother calling from Johannesburg,  very upset. My mother was missing.

She had been living in a small rural town where we grew up and  she had been the organist in her church.

That Sunday morning she did not make it to church. After the service many in the community went to her house to see why she never came to church. They find the house open, the car gone, the lights on and nobody to be found.
 
They started calling around, but nobody knew where she was. After a while the police arrived with the news that a terrible thing had happened. They had found my mom twelve miles outside the town on a dirt road where she was murdered very cruelly.
What happened was that in the early morning hours a young black man broke into the house, threatened her with a garden fork, assaulted her, tied her up and kidnapped her in her own car.
 
We assume he did not know exactly how to drive a car, because it broke down after only twelve miles and then he panicked. At first he tried to set fire to the car with my mom inside. When that did not work, he chased her out of the car into the veld/bush where he killed her with stones and the garden fork. We could not recognize her in the photographs submitted in court as evidence. You could put your fingers in the holes he made with the garden fork.

I have to tell you, too be on vacation at the coast and then get a message like this, is not fun. You cannot describe to people what happens with you.  Emotionally you are immediately out of control.  You read these things in the newspaper and think that it only happens to other people and that it will never happen to you.

Name any negative emotion and I will tell you that for each one of them, in its worst manifestation, it was part of who I was. You have no control. You feel as if you are in a tumble dryer and you get spun from one emotion to the next.
 
The disillusionment of “this cannot be true” overpowers your whole being.
I was immediately very, very angry. And the first thing I said to God was “I cannot believe this! How could you allow this? Where were you? Where are all your promises? You say you are with us and you will protect us. Why didn’t you stop this? Why didn’t you protect my mother?”

I was VERY angry.

As the day progresses and the realization comes to you, the emotions just get worse and worse and the anger get worse and worse.   It got so bad that I reached a point where I said to God “You say you are a god of love, how can a god of love do this to his child? If my mom was this terrible woman who did not know you, who dishonored your name, I would be okay because she got what she deserved.”.

My mom gave her whole life to God. She was the example of someone who loved Jesus and gave her life to him. She wasn’t just the organist in the church, she was also the caring elder at the old age home. She lovingly supported the seniors. My mother also had a ministry among the black people in the black township – they loved her a lot.  It made me even more angry – I could not understand it.

Later that day I walked out in a field and shouted out loud to God and cursed Him. I said to Him “You say you are a God of love – how can this be love?!? Why me? Why her? She is the last one to deserve this.”

My brother called and said that we should not immediately hurry back home. The house was under police investigation with fingerprinting and all that. We should stay at the coast and travel back the next day.

Don’t think there is any sleep possible that night. You lie in the dark and what happens to you is that the events of the day plays in your mind like a video and you cannot stop it. You see that guy standing next to her bed with the garden fork and what he does to her. How he throws her in the car and how he drives off with her. How he tries to burn the car and how he chases her out of the car. How that first stone hits her.

It drives you crazy!    When it’s done, it starts all over again. You cannot get this video to stop running in your mind. And each time the story plays in your mind, the emotions are worse and more angry.

So much, that I said to myself “How can you ever get on a pulpit again to tell people that the God we worship is a God of love?  No way!  You can never say that again! How will you ever be able to tell people they should forgive their enemies and love them? There is now way you are going to forgive this guy, never mind love him! There is just no way!”

And then that night the realization that God and everything I had given my life for, might very well just be an illusion. Maybe not a reality at all. And my doubt that tells me I cannot pray to this God any more, cannot preach about Him, will never be able to tell people about his Kingdom any more – this is all just a story.

It was terrible to lie there that night and think that I wasted my life for nothing. So I decided that night that I was done. I would just get the funeral behind me and when I got back home to my congregation that very first Sunday, I will get on the pulpit and tell them “If you want to go on with this illusion and game, is okay, go ahead. But I am done. It’s over.”

I decided not to tell my wife and kids about this plan, because they were just as upset. However, on the way home from the funeral, I planned to tell them about my resolve.

And so I spend that night planning how I will do all this, where I would find a job, where we would live, how we would move – I planned my future in the finest of detail that night.

I also told God “If you are there and if you hear me and if you are real, then I tell you, this is it – done! I don’t want to believe in you. I don’t want a God like you. This does not suit me.”

We got up the next morning and we were in the car on the way to the town where the funeral would be held. And what made me even more angry and anxious, was that my dad died three years earlier of a heart attack. It hit my mom hard – she and my dad was very close and had a beautiful relationship. His death was very sudden.   My mom had asked me to do the funeral and I said I could never do it! I was just a hurt as everybody around me. I just could not see myself doing his funeral.

But my mother was persistent and I caved in under the pressure. I presided over the funeral. It was not easy. And when it was over I told my wife that one should not take emotional decisions, because now I sentenced myself to three more funerals. I could not bury my dad and then refuse to bury my mom and my in-laws. The precedence had been created.

So there at the coast with the news of my mom’s murder, one of the first questions my dear wife asks me in her shocked state, is “Are you going to do the funeral?”

In distress my answer was “Do I have a choice!?”

That was also a battle I fought in the car : I was traveling toward something I did not want to do, but had to. Those people in the rural town where my mom lived and in front of whom I grew up,  would all shed a tear and say “Wow, what a pious young preacher man burying his murdered mother.”

And I was ANGRY. And I said to God “You see, this is why I do not want to believe in you. It is salt in my wounds! But I will show you : for only one more time I will go there and lie and do the funeral just to get the people off my case.”

You know what? Women are born with x-ray eyes – they see right through you. My wife knew I was not okay. But I didn’t say a word. And every now and then she asked me if I were okay and I said yes. A lie. Our small kids were in the back of the car with big eyes. My wife tried all the music we had in the car, but nothing helped for that atmosphere.

At one point she asked me how I would feel to arrive in that town that I grew up in. I told her that I were stricken with anxiety. It was traumatic for the town when my dad died and now we would have to console the whole town again – they will not be able to console us. It was going to be traumatic for all of us. And it was just trauma all round when we arrived in that town.

Somewhere on that long trip to the funeral, it was as if I came to myself and said : “For more than 24 hours you have been engaged in this fight with the Lord. And when you are done, you start all over again. You tell him the same stuff, tell him what you think of him and tell him that you are done with him, but you don’t end the process!  And you are not realistic about this murderer.”

I cannot tell you what I had in mind what I would do to this guy when I came face to face with him. It is unbelievable to have such things in mind. And I also told myself “Just get a grip. You have been wronged. Stop it now. Get these things out of your system! Let go of the Lord and forget about the murder and get on with your life.”

So I decided  “This is it!” And I speak to God again “If you are there, and if you hear me, then I tell you this is good bye. This is the last time in my life that I will officially talk to you.”

Then I got this idea and I thought to myself  “You know what, now I can show the Lord that his word is not true. I am going to forgive this murderer now. I know all the moves and the principles – I preached about it many times. I’ll cut the rope, set the murderer free.”

But in my heart I knew this would not work – I was so angry that I did not really feel like forgiving him. And if it did not work, I could tell the whole world I did what the Bible says we should do and it did not work. It’s an illusion.

In my heart and to God I say “This is good bye God; and I now forgive this murderer. I set him free. I cut that rope.

I cannot put in words what happened to me next. I had never had an experience like this before of after that day. It was physical. When I said those words to God, it was as if someone stripped a skin off my body from my head to my feet.  In an instant everything was gone – like I was left in a vacuum.

Gone was every negative emotion. Gone was the hatred. Gone was the bitterness. Gone was the pain.

I got a fright and thought “Am I not maybe waking up from a dream?”

I had to pinch myself to convince myself that this was not a dream. I was in the car. It did happen. It was reality. Something supernatural had happened to me that I had not foreseen.

The next moment things happened in this vacuum I was in. Things flashed past my vision.

But let me first digress and tell you how God prepares us for this and how the devil wants to stop it.   The previous weekend we were in the town of Stilbaai. That Saturday my kids had asked me if we would go to church there in Stilbaai, to which I replied “No. We are on vacation. We can go to church again when we are at home. Time is precious. If the weather is nice, we will go to the beach.” The kids were very happy.

When we woke up the Sunday it was raining. The kids were unhappy because they were promised the beach and now it was raining. Lying in bed we were trying to think what to do. My thought was that this was how God was teaching me, preventing us from going to the beach when I knew better.

The church bells were calling people to church and I thought “Wow this is my chance to go and listen to another preacher incognito.”  I tried to get the family to join me, but I went alone. I was a bit late, but got a seat in the back of the church. When the pastor came out, he was an old grey guy whom I thought was just a stand in during the holidays and who would not give a well prepared sermon at all. I should have stayed in bed. 

His sermon was from Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out his disciples saying “I send you into the world with the message. It will not be easy. I send you like sheep amongst the wolves. You will be slandered and stabbed in the back. They will take you to court for my sake. They will even kill you for my sake. But use every opportunity to be my witness.”  He also tells them how this message will not bring peace everywhere, that it will even bring antagonism between family members, but that he will be there for them and they need to persevere.

Then the old preacher brought this into the context of the politics of the day.  South Africa was 1 year away from the election where a black government took over for the first time.  Tensions were high, everybody felt insecure and people were cleaning guns and even hoarding food for some apocalyptic famine.  And he concluded saying that where Jesus is present, politics are null and void and peace reigns. He also proved this from the selection of disciples. Jesus had choice of the whole Jewish nation, but he picked an unlikely bunch. On one side Simon the zealot, whose group was a far right Jewish terror organization trying to throw off the Roman yoke with horrible acts. On the other hand he picked Matthew the tax collector who collected money for the Roman oppressors. And in the wide reaching spectrum there is peace because Jesus was in the center of it.

And I made furious notes so that I could give this message to my own congregation,where the political divide was nasty.

The evening before the murder, friends took us out for a late night dinner, and around a late breakfast table we decided on the spur of the moment to go to an inter-denominational gathering where they would be praying for peace. 

What a phenomenal church service. The preacher used John 8 where a kernel of wheat dies in the soil to bring forth life. He told again of how things were not good between people on a horizontal level. The Bible tells of how there is peace on a vertical level from God. So how do you bring these together? Only in one place where these two meet (and he crossed his two forearms) and that is at the cross of Christ.

Driving back from this meeting, we were all fired up – we had Jesus on our side and we could be all optimistic.

As we stopped back where we were staying, my wife was there with the news of my mother.

Suddenly all this optimism and good thoughts left my head, until that Monday morning driving to the funeral.

When that vacuum hit me, the first thing I saw in its place was that preacher’s crossed forearms. And I think to myself “Yesterday you walked out of that sermon all fired up, but when this thing came across your path, you crossed it out and discarded it.”

The next thing that flashed in front of me, was me sitting in the other service making notes in order to go preach to my own congregation and I think “You hypocrite, you preach to other people and want to tell them to forgive and live in peace, but when it comes to your own life, you cross out Jesus and his message.”

It was one of the biggest disillusionments of my life. I felt so ashamed. I know God forgave me, but it was very difficult to believe.

The next thing flashing through my mind was the murderer, and I got icy chills around my heart – what if he was murdering his next victim right at that minute?!? I felt hysterical and I prayed that God would stop him.

I then I thought to myself “You are going crazy! You are paying for your mom’s murderer.  Hello!!”

But my thoughts returned to the murderer and I thought that if he was a follower of Jesus, he would not have killed my mom. And again I caught myself asking God to not just stop this guy, but save him as well.

And again I thought to myself “You are losing it! Within seconds you have prayed for your mother’s murderer twice!”   I remembered my studies where we learned that people can lose it after trauma with the shock and the pain. I convinced myself that that was what was happening to me and I reviewed all that should be wrong with me now and I realized that I was OK!

I decided at that moment that I could never tell anybody of this experience of mine – I was closing this chapter of my book because of the shame.

We reached the town where the funeral would be and it was chaotic!  Stores were closed, people were angry. At the local farmer’s co-op the farmers were there with guns and pistols, all angry and they all suffered the hurt, pain, anger and feelings of revenge that I had felt the previous days.

The whole town’s population visited us that week leading up to the funeral.  They were angry, and I kept quiet. I said nothing, because I was so ashamed.

The evening before the funeral, after everybody had gone to bed, I sat alone, paging this way and that through my Bible. And I got nothing. I said “Lord help me,  I have to do this funeral tomorrow and I don’t know what to say!”

And then God reminded me of the devotionals I had read the previous week. I could have thrown that devotional away, but in stead I found 

* John the Baptist who was beheaded, 
* Stephen that was stoned, 
* Psalm 23 – for the first time in my life I believed Psalm 23, where it said that I would not be scared going through the dark depths, because in His hands I am safe. I had to believe it for my mom – it was written there and I could not just cross out what I chose in the Bible. 
* 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 that stated that our pain and suffering here on earth is not a patch on the glory that awaits us.

 

I had that sudden realization that we were all in anguish for my mom and her death, but she was in heaven, singing in the choir! And not suffering.

I felt how God was cornering me and telling me to tell the people about forgiveness, but I was too ashamed! I had to give in. I made a few notes about all my own experiences since I got the message of my mom being missing, what happened to me in the car and all the time until that evening. And the last note was to ask : “How many of you, during this week, has even once thought about praying for a lost murderer?    We don’t have to worry about my mom who is in heaven already.”
 
The next morning I was up early, and I was calm – totally against my usual emotional demeanor. Everybody offered medication to keep calm, but I refused.

Just as I entered the church, before going up on the pulpit, I ran into the bathroom to have a sip of water – my mouth was very dry. I ran into an old gentleman that saw me growing up. He stopped in his tracks and yanked out his revolver and said “Hey, we’re sorry about your mom, but we are ready for them!” 

He hesitated and then went on “Did you see all the black people coming down the street to the church? I  tell you, today there is going to be trouble at this funeral – I hope you organized security.”

I was startled! I don’t even know if I had a drink of water.  I should have known all the black people of the town was going to come to church as was customary in those rural towns. And the politics in this town was so confused and upset that I probably should have gotten permission for these people to attend!

I ran around the church, and there were hordes of black people streaming to the church.   In my wildest dreams I never thought people would come to my mom’s funeral with firearms! Who would even think of security at a funeral?!?   And there was just one minute before we started! So I ran back around the back of the church to enter there and thought to myself that this was a very volatile situation and I needed to be very careful with what I said. Maybe I could not mention about praying for the murderer, because that old guy could shoot me right from his pew!

When I ascended the pulpit, I could not feel the ground below me. I just felt God’s presence and decided at that moment just to say what I prepared. And if the old guy wanted to shoot, that was OK too.

I cannot describe the vibes in that church. The peace that filled the place. The enormous church building packed, and a third of them black.

Only afterwards did I realize that in that church that morning the words of the old pastor at the coast became true : if God is at the center, politics have no meaning, then there is peace. And there was peace that morning.

When the service was over, the black attendees spilled out of the church and made off to the cemetery. When we arrived at the cemetery, they had lined up from the gate to the grave on either side of the road. A guard of honor, and they were singing as we followed the coffin to the grave.

Afterwards there was the traditional tea and cake in the church hall. It was like a bazaar – like you can only find at farming community funerals. 

And I was tired, totally exhausted, the tension was over. I felt like I was in pieces and I just wanted to go home, but everybody wanted to say a last word and sympathize again.

I stood there drinking a bit of juice and saw the old guy with the gun bear down on me. And I thaught “This is it!  This old guy is going to jump me! What am I going to say? I’m too tired to say anything!!” 

He stopped in front of me and grabbed me by the shoulders and burst into tears. He said  “Thank you.  Thank you!   You will never know what you did for me today.” And he turns around and walks away.

While I stood there with my dropped jaw,  a lady approached me – I recognized her, wealthy, I knew I had to be careful from what I knew about her political view. She crossed her arms and said : “This thing about your mother is bad for us, but I just want to tell you one thing :  I am so ashamed that I call myself a Christian and this whole week I did not even once think about praying for a lost murderer. I am ashamed!”

I also notice the local pastor of the town at the funeral. And it was strange that he never showed his face during the previous week to come and pray for us even though we know each other really well. He did not even call us, and it made me uneasy. When almost everybody had left, he approached me, kind of looking down and said “Can I talk to you?”

I said he could.

He said “I don’t know if you know what this murder meant for this town. The politics have been so screwed up for quite a while. I  decided with the associate pastor that we needed to trust God and do something like a series of sermons on peace. So we started that November into December with Christmas as a climax. We had scriptures and a theme and as we made progress, we saw how the Lord started to work in this town. Two weeks before Christmas, on the Sunday morning this murder happened and my colleague left on his vacation and he left me with this situation in the town! “

He continued  “I was too scared to show my face in case the people would mock me and ask what has happened to our peace. I almost did not even come to this funeral.   And you know what you did today, without us even talking, you read all those scriptures from your devotionals and those sermons at the coast.  And those were all the scriptures we used in our peace sermon series. And you pulled all of these ideas together again so that I can proceed with the sermon next Sunday. “

As we left the church that day, I said to Ina that for the first time in my life I believed Romans 8 verse 28 : And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

We returned to our own home in Pretoria and 18 months later the murderer was caught and there was a long court case.

Since the days before the funeral, I have never again felt that feeling of bitterness and revenge. I still pray for the murderer. He got a double life sentence and is still serving his sentence in Bloemfontein. I just know one thing : that the Lord loves that guy, that He died for him as well and I am convinced that God will “save”  him, if he has not been saved yet.

Do you know what the amazing bottom line is of this story?  When that murderer dies one day, he will be in heaven, because he will have been forgiven. And my mother will welcome her own murderer at the gates of heaven.

Show me another god where this would be possible!

When I share my story with you, it is for one purpose only, and that is to beg you that you will no longer live with anybody un-forgiven in your life.
And maybe your story and your pain and your suffering is much worse than mine was. It does not matter. Bite down, forgive, and set free and experience the freedom that God gave us in Jesus Christ.

“…  we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28. 

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