Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Justice and forgiveness

I have been listening to the reports about the Saville enquiry into Bloody Sunday, and, although I do not feel qualified to comment in detail on the events of that day or the handling of it over the years, the whole issue did make me think about justice, forgiveness and revenge.
C. S. Lewis wrote that forgiveness is a lovely idea – until we have someone to forgive and then it can become a huge source of bitterness, anger and pain. Having been wronged, and never getting justice for that wrong, is difficult and painful, as it must have been for so many families waiting for thirty eight long years.
I heard a man speaking on the radio this morning who said he would gladly have killed the soldier responsible at one point in his adult life, but that now he felt maybe forgiveness would be possible, if only there were remorse. That may sound grudging, but it is actually huge progress and I hope that others affected will be able to find closure.
Forgiveness is central to Christian thought, but it isn’t easy to forgive without a request to be forgiven and are we even required to? To be honest, I don’t know, but I do know that forgiveness is much easier from the outside looking in and that when we try to force forgiveness we often exacerbate wounds that just are not ready to heal.
(Above - families celebrating the Saville report and tearing up the Widgery report today)


  1. The model of forgiveness that Jesus alludes to more than once in the Gospels is that of the cancellation of a debt. That is to say, the one who forgives does not exact payment for what he is owed; does not demand an eye for an eye, for instance. Perhaps WE have made forgiveness next to impossible for ourselves by sentimentalizing it...feeling we must fall into the arms of the one who has wronged us with a great flood of loving emotion.

  2. As someone who served in the Province in the early 80s I have mixed feelings about all this. Today, as a Christian, I am still torn between heart and head, forgiveness and justice.

    I would urge people to read the report for themselves, it's available online at http://www.bloody-sunday-inquiry.org/index.html

    I would also urge people to consider the context, just as we do in Biblical Studies or any other study of history.

    The media can give the impression that the soldiers simply fired on a peaceful protest march, and this is not the case. Marches and riots were notorious for setting the stage for IRA snipers and ambushes. The previous August rioting in Londonderry had been accompanied by IRA sniper fire which injured several soldiers.

    That is why marches had been banned the previous summer and is why this march was illegal from the outset.

    If you read the opening volume of the report it clearly sets the scene. You can see that, true to form, soldiers had come under fire from IRA snipers a full 10 minutes before the Paras were even sent in.

    This was the highly volatile context for the tragic events of the day. I do not condone the actions of individual soldiers and only they (and God) know the true sequence of events. But please consider the context and what the ordinary soldier was up against in those terrible days of the Troubles.

    It is horrible that people died that day but the report clearly shows that the actions of the soldiers were not premeditated, they were the tragic consequences of a chaotic series of events.

    What definitely was premeditated, and totally reprehensible, was the bombing 4 weeks later of the Officer's Mess at the Para's barracks in Aldershot which killed 7 people, all civilians except one who was the chaplain.

    Today we have peace (relative to what it was then) and there has been forgiveness shown on all sides. I guess justice rests with God, and with his Son who died for ALL of our sins.

  3. Yes, this is so true.

    I was quite shocked, when I visited Derry a few years ago, en route to Donegal, that the Anglican cathedral has a shameless exhibition (which has obviously been there for many years) concerning the locking of the city gates when James II tried to enter the city (see: http://www.northernirelandhistory.co.uk/page17.htm). There is no sense of compunction about this act – no sense that Derry was a plantation city that had forced Catholics off their own land which was then repopulated by Lowland Scots and northern English Protestants. It was, in today’s language, Ethnic Cleansing. Yet this is not mentioned in the haste to glorify the triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism – which in reality was just the use of religion to get rid of the Irish who had some silly notion that they didn’t need to be ruled by England.

    A close friend of mine is a Protestant from Co Down and says that what really needs to be said is that a terrible wrong was committed 400 years ago. This fact is just lightly skipped over by Loyalists, who prefer to dress up this act as a victory over Catholicism when in truth it was no more than genocide and imperialism.

    I have been a regular visitor to Northern Ireland for the past 12 years and have seen the change wrought by political and public will – but also a good deal of government, EU and American money that has created a false economy and this prosperity has been the main incentive for the peace deal’s success – the people of Northern Ireland live subsidised lives, in deficit to the Treasury getting on for about £10 billion! It is interesting to note that since the Good Friday Agreement there has been the building of around 30 ‘peace walls’ – huge walls to separate Protestant and Catholic communities. Hence it would be foolish to believe this change in the fortunes of Northern Ireland is built on forgiveness – more a grudging tolerance on the part of many. Though no doubt there are those who have been able to forgive.

    That aside, there is little analysis in the recent news concerning the Saville Enquiry about the use of army personnel, trained to fight, not to act as civil defence – i.e. in a similar role to the police – in the Troubles. Yes, we can’t condone killings, but we can ask if it was appropriate to deploy army personnel in what was essentially civil disobedience. At no point during the riots of 1981 or the Miners’ Strike of the mid-80s did Thatcher use the army – which suggests something had been learned from Bloody Sunday and that the same mistake was not going to be allowed to happen on English soil. Soldiers (certainly in 1972) weren’t trained to operate in a civilian peace-keeping situation. Therefore I would suggest the real blame for Bloody Sunday lies with the British Government of the time (Heath’s Conservative Government 1970-1974).

  4. Thank you both.

    The above contributions do give interesting perspective on an event that I did say I hardly felt qualified to comment on other than around the general issue of justice, forgiveness and revenge. My father's side of the family were from Belfast and had some level of divided opinion over the troubles.