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Forgive and get out of prison

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Forgive and get out of prison

My appeal to those who were angry with the late Gen. Elly Tumwine to embrace the power and freedom that come with forgiveness did not sit well with some readers. The idea of forgiving someone they associated with the ruling regime’s use of deadly force against Ugandans was unacceptable to them.


I understand the difficulty people have with my appeal to forgive. It is a concept that is often misunderstood to mean an invitation to forget what happened, or to feel good and emotionally positive towards the person who hurt them, or to excuse or minimise the other person’s actions. Some think that forgiving mandates a resumption of a relationship with the one who hurt them or resubmitting to their behaviour and painful actions.


 Forgiveness is not any of these things. It is not necessarily a good feeling or emotion towards the offender. It does not require the cessation of hurt feelings. Forgiveness is a conscious act founded on the knowledge that we are all sinners, so fallible that we are no better than the person who hurt us.  Life carries with it the inescapable fact that you and I have hurt someone just as we have been hurt by someone.


On a national level, Ugandans have been subjected to pain by rulers since our country was patched together 120 years ago. The colonial experience was very oppressive, though ours was not in the league of countries like Kenya, Tanganyika, the Rhodesias, South Africa or Congo. All successive post-independence governments of Uganda have been oppressive. 


As we celebrate sixty years of flag independence, we should remember that not one government, especially those that have been headed by Apolo Milton Obote, Idi Amin Dada, Paulo Muwanga and Yoweri Museveni, can claim innocence from assaulting large numbers of Ugandans, complete with denial of human rights, unjustified incarceration, torture, and killings.  


The victims of each regime have declared their own experiences to have been “the very worst of all.”  The beneficiaries and favoured ones have considered theirs the best governments. Yet for every happy celebrant of a regime, there have been multiple victims of the same. Such victimization has created deep pain and resentment, traumatizing millions, and sowing seeds of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice. The thirst for revenge is an understandable consequence of this burdensome situation.


The lucky people have chosen to forgive the oppressors, tormentors, and killers of their kinsmen. They are lucky because health practice and scientific research have shown that forgiving can improve sleep, reduce physical pain, decrease high blood pressure, reduce the risk of a heart attack, decrease anxiety, stress, and depression.  We know that people who do not forgive tend to suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder and severe depression. That smouldering resentment is a venomous poison that is one of the most debilitating human afflictions. 


Now, forgiveness is not easy. The urge to revenge is an easier path than forgiving one who has wronged us. However, forgiveness is a central and non-negotiable requirement of Christian life on Earth. In Matthew 18: 21-35, Jesus Christ pronounced himself on the matter and the consequences of unforgiveness. When the disciple Peter asked: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”, Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus followed that with a parable of the unforgiving servant to demonstrate the severe punishment that awaits those who do not forgive.


It is not easy to live the new life that comes with accepting Jesus Christ as one’s saviour. In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul instructs us to put off our old selves, which belongs to our former manner of life, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness. Paul acknowledges that anger is natural. So, when we have been hurt, Paul writes that we can be angry, but we should neither sin nor let the sun go down on our anger.  


Paul then offers us an effective prescription for overcoming the affliction.  In Ephesians 4:31-32, he writes: “Let all bitterness and rage and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Bitterness, which is a persistent resentment that grows over time, poisons our hearts, our minds, and our relationships. Bitterness imprisons us, ties us up in chains, enslaves us, and renders us dysfunctional.


Rage (or wrath) manifests as explosive anger, a temporary madness that is often destructive to the sufferer and to those in their path.  Brawling (or clamour) is obutongani (in Rukiga-Runyankore) or kugombana (Kiswahili), or okuyomba (Luganda). It can escalate into a physical fight or a heart attack or other illness. 


Slander (gossip) is uttering negative things about someone in their absence. Many born again Christians are not immune from doing this, especially about fellow Christians. The intention is always to damage the reputation of a person you dislike or who has hurt you. Malice is the desire to see someone suffer or get hurt as punishment for what they have done to you. 


Paul’s prescription is that we should be kind and tender-hearted towards those that hurt us. In Colossians 3:12-17, he writes: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  


The oft repeated appeal to the Lord to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” becomes empty parroting if we do not forgive others in practice. Furthermore, we do not forgive because someone has apologized to us. We forgive because it is required of us. We forgive because it is good for us. The offender will apologize if they choose to. 


It is not easy to forgive. But the Lord is the great enabler. When he was on the cross - bleeding, and taunted – Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” As Christians, we must do nothing less than what the Lord did for us, even when we did not deserve His mercy, through His suffering, death, and resurrection. 


Again, I fully understand the source of the anger in the land. But we must not let the tragedy of our disappointing first 60 years of flag independence take us down with it.  Peace.


© Muniini K. Mulera

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