Friday, August 21, 2009

Forgiveness Vs. Pardoning

With the Lockerbie Bomber being released recently (a convicted mass murderer who was convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103) on compassionate grounds, many are divided over their personal reaction to the story. There is general outrage in the United States and much of the world. Abdel Baset al-Megrahi always insisted he was innocent, never showed remorse, and never showed compassion towards the victims or their families. Now he is terminally ill. Someone in Scotland (where he was being held) made the decision, on compassionate grounds, to allow him to head home to Libya. The world erupted in anger. The Libyans are welcoming him back with open arms with some calling him a hero, incensing many in the West even more. Is this letting Megrahi go an act of Christlike forgiveness or it is a travesty of justice?

It brings to mind the topic of forgiveness. Should we forgive someone of such a heinous crime? And what would the grounds be? I heard a really interesting interview on the radio this morning with Wilma Doerksen, a woman who knows about justice and forgiveness. Her daughter, Candace was kidnapped, killed in Winnipeg in the winter of 1984. Wilma has struggled with the idea of forgiveness and mentioned that she thinks about our response to being victimized in terms of two terms: forgiveness and pardon. She thinks that forgiveness is a long process that everyone must eventually go down for their own healing. It doesn't depend on specific response from the victimizer. But pardon is different; pardon must depend on the posture of the victimizer. Are they remorseful? Have they changed? Are they unsafe?

She thinks that because the Lockerbie Bomber showed no remorse that a pardon was unjustified. Compassion is good but her compassion for a terminally ill man does not override her compassion for the families of the victims of Flight 103. Therefore a pardon doesn't fit for her. I haven't thought about it alot but I tend to agree with her.

Perhaps you are struggling with forgiveness. Interestingly, Wilma mentioned that forgiveness is a process and there is a pressure to forgive that is put on victims. Although it is a command of Scripture, it is not one that we should try to impose on others by use of controlling behaviors like pressuring, guilting, or manipulation. Instead we ought to remind each other, be patient, and not demand it. And we need to realize the difference between it and pardoning. Forgiveness does not mean we must pardon people for their crimes or wounding. May we have the grace to forgive those who trespass against us and the wisdom to pardon those for whom it makes sense to.


Tammy said...

Some good thoughts there. I haven't though much about it either, but I tend to agree with Wilma. The only problem with pardoning people (legally) is that it's pretty easy to fake remorse if you know that's your ticket out of jail. I may be cynical, but that's one of my concerns there.

Also - I think you have a typo in your last paragraph. I think it should say "Forgiveness does not mean..."

Mark said...

Hi Tammy, thanks for letting me know about that last paragraph, definitely a typo.