The Other Cheek: What It Takes to Forgive
Sep 03, 2019
Forgiveness is Spontaneous
As I mined my memory for forgiveness stories, I dredged up one which has baffled me off and on for years. At that time, I could not understand how and why it happened the way it did. But as I now try to remember how the scene unfolded, I can almost taste it, and I cringe with shame over those times when I had resisted releasing forgiveness to the people who had upset me.
I was on a brief vacation from work during our town fiesta, when guests would flock to our home. One of those guests from Manila was my younger cousin, Boying, aged 20. Smart, tall, handsome, and a heartthrob, he was the Corps Commander of FarEastern University’s (FEU) ROTC. He, together with my younger brother, Matt, and another cousin, Gadong, were invited by a family friend—also named Boying— for a spin around town in his dad’s new jeepney. (Let me distinguish these two Boyings by calling my cousin Boying1 and the driver, Boying2.) The boys were thrilled. It was going to be some adventure.
In less than half an hour, someone came running to jolt us with the tragic news: The jeepney had turned turtle into a muddy ditch and all the passengers and the driver were seriously injured. The men in the house rushed to the scene of the accident, while the women, led by my mom, formed a circle and knelt down in prayer.
Boying1 was the hardest hit of all, badly disfigured and soaked in his own blood, so he had to be rushed to the hospital. Sadly, he breathed his last on the way.
What grieved us even more was the information that Boying2 had no driver’s license and had driven the jeepney without his dad’s knowledge. Our house was filled with grief and the sounds of mourning, worsened by severe guilt that reeked of should’ves, would’ves, could’ves.
Someone had to quickly go to Manila (then a long ten-hour drive) to personally inform Boying1’s parents about the accident, while my own parents had to see to the body. Over 24 hours later, as we sat inside the church where Boying1’s remains lay in state, we all geared up for the ugliest scene possible. I imagined my Auntie Ely marching in, in hysterics and blaming everyone, and my Uncle Bert, cursing and angling for a fist fight.
It was dawn when they arrived. Clutching each other, their faces unreadable, they silently walked straight to where Boying1 lay, and bowed their heads. Auntie put her arms over the coffin, as though embracing and saying goodbye to the remains of her son. Then she and Uncle Bert turned around, as kin and friends hugged and condoled with them. My aunt whispered, “Is the driver of the jeepney here?”
Someone pointed to the young man seated on the last pew with his parents. As we all held our breath, dreading what might happen next, my uncle followed his wife as she headed toward Boying2. She paused briefly, then slowly bent down, hugged the young man, and whispered in his ear.
My mind went into a crazy spin. What’s happening?
Boying2 does not deserve this kindness! He has committed a crime! How could this be?
Auntie Ely did not wait for the culprit and his parents to make the first move or even explain, much less beg for her and my uncle’s forgiveness. Here she was, a bereaved mother, unselfishly reaching out—consoling and forgiving the reckless one who had caused her son’s untimely death, just like that. I could not make sense of what was happening, and neither could the rest of the people inside the church. All 48 sleepless hours had been like a mad, unending nightmare for me, with no chance of ever waking up.
Many more remarkable scenes took place after that: the three-day wake in Manila which kept a huge church packed to the rafters at all hours, the visit of dignitaries, the moving testimonies, and the hero’s burial where the whole FEU ROTC battalion stood in salute, with their professors and classmates in tears, plus more.
But the scene that remained in my heart for a long time was that moment when my aunt sought out the offending driver and took him in her arms, reassuring and soothing him. No bitterness? No anger? No resentment?
Auntie Ely’s cheek had been severely slapped by the senseless death of her beloved child, yet she offered her other cheek by embracing the wrongdoer and dropping all charges against him and his family.
Over the years, this tableau would be reenacted in my mind—and right now, the images are more vivid than ever. How can I emulate this spontaneous, outright forgiveness? How many of us can? More than the sudden death of Boying1, this act of Auntie Ely became the talk of the town for days on end.
I wanted to find out why and how Auntie Ely, totally supported by her husband, could bestow forgiveness so naturally. But I was scheduled to leave for my studies abroad and when I came back after five years, Auntie Ely had gone home to Jesus, too.
Some theologians say that forgiveness is passing on to those who have sinned against us the merciful grace that we, ourselves, endlessly receive from God. I am convinced that this was mirrored by Auntie Ely, whose departed parents had served all their lives as deacon and deaconess in their home church. What Boying2 had done was not suddenly forgotten, but Boying1’s parents did not ask for retribution.
My cousin Ophelia, Auntie Ely’s oldest daughter, gave me a peek into Auntie Ely’s character during one of our recent conversations. “Mommy would always remind us that when we hold on to pain and hatred, it destroys us much more than it destroys the person who caused us pain. Forgiveness allows us to move on toward inner peace.”
“Forgiveness is more for the benefit of the giver then— not for the recipient,” I said.
“Oh, the benefit is mutual—it is also for the person who has been forgiven, especially after he has mustered enough courage and humility to admit his fault. He makes peace with himself as well.”
Now I know what the Lord made Auntie Ely see: that Boying2 was not a killer, but a close friend of her late son who had only wanted to please Boying1 by driving him around his town.
Let’s look back to the three crosses on Calvary on the day Jesus was crucified. Luke 23:39-43 tells us, “One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, ‘So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!’
But the other criminal protested, ‘Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’
And Jesus replied, ‘I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
- sudden inner impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus
- unforced, unconstrained, unprompted, unbidden, unsolicited
Spontaneous forgiveness. It is not reserved for tomorrow, nor scheduled for next week. It is for now.