Sunday, September 13 2020
In August of 2014, Susan and I sat in the packed church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Oxford and listened raptly to Baroness Caroline Cox speak about the persecuted church and the forgiveness extended by those persecuted to those who tormented them, sometimes to the point of martyrdom. Rather than comment, I will let these brief synopses speak for themselves and I hope that the witness will compel us to come to grips from within, not just as theory but in practice, with our Lord's command to forgive those who sin against us as we have been forgiven.
On the night before he was murdered, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his “I have been to the mountain top” sermon.” His last words were “I have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The Rev. Fleming Rutledge preached on Dr. King with these words: “It was not human happiness that he felt. It was not human hope that he held. It was not human promises that he trusted. It was God that he trusted, the God who makes a way out of no way. He trusted that God's glory would be shown forth in his weakness as he 'shared in the sufferings of Christ.'”
In October 2000, 21 year old Pastor Liu Haitao was beaten to death by the police in Henan province, China.
As he died, suffering injuries from torture, as well as denial of medical treatment, he told his mother: “Mum, I am very happy, I am fine. Just persist in our belief and follow him to the end. I am going now, Mum. Pray for me.” His final word before he died was a very weak, but unmistakable 'Amen.'
In the historic Armenian land of Nagorno Karabakh, Baroness Cox met a man who had vowed revenge for the death of a child, but when the opportunity arose he broke his vow. An American responded by saying that for the first time he understood what was meant by “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord”; thank you for the dignity you have shown.” The man responded, “Dignity is a crown of thorns,”
In Jos, Nigeria, the Most Reverend Benjamin Kwashi was away from home when militants came to kill him so instead they brutalized one of his sons and his wife. After visiting his wife in hospital he wrote that “we praised God that we had been found worthy to suffer for his kingdom; and we prayed that all Gloria's pain, humiliation, and anguish would be used for his kingdom, his glory, and the strength of his church.” Then he gave this challenge to the wider Christian Church: “If we have a faith worth living for, it is a faith worth dying for. Do not you in the West compromise the faith for which we are living and dying.”
Finally, the following poem, written by David Aziz, is a chilling illustration of “faith and forgiveness which shines like a light in the darkness.” The poem was published in a pamphlet entitled The Coptic Christmas Eve Massacre: A Youth Perspective—Please God, be our Guide, You decide/You are there as I die and my mother cries./I was looking forward to the fata,/But now I'm getting colder and wetter./l lie on this blood-stained road,/With my lifeless body on show,/I wanna be free, I wanna be free,/I wanna be free from this body, ye/I wanna be free, let my spirit roam free,/Lord please receive my spirit from within me,/I am filled with lead but I survive,/And though I am dead I am still alive,/I don't hate those who shot me so please don't be bitter (bold mine),/'Cos life with Christ is much better./But this is for the best,/When your faith is put to the test,/But it's all over now and I rest,/I said it's all over now and I rest,/...I can rest.
There are many other illustrations in Baroness Cox's little book The Very Stones Cry Out and, in its own way, each story cries out: How ready am I to respond to my Lord's command to forgive? How ready are you?