I find it sadly instructive that what took place on a massive scale in Europe a half-century ago is being repeated in the same region today — Serbs “cleansing their country of longheld animosities that run deep into the soul.” Yet would it surprise you to know that this is only the latest round of group homicide? The point is, it’s always someone hating somebody else as deep-seated bitterness and hatred enrages and then engages the mind to violent acts of the most unspeakable kind.
At the core of all this grotesque inhumanity is a heart of unforgiveness. Philip Yancey makes an interesting point when he informs us that “Nazi Germany ... included the Serbs in their ethnic cleansing” campaign during World War II. True, in the 1990s the Serbs killed tens of thousands, but during Nazi occupation of Balkan territory in the 1940s, the Germans and Croats killed hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Gypsies and Jews.”
In this most recent war, Yancey goes on to say, “German neo-Nazis enlisted to fight alongside the Croats, and units of the Croatian Army brazenly flew swastika flags and the old Croatian Fascist symbol. ‘Never again,’ the rallying cry of Holocaust survivors, is also what inspired the Serbs to defy the United Nations and virtually the entire world. Never again will they let Croats rule over territory populated by Serbs.”
I can tell you with certainty that all the bombs and infantry in the world will never cure what ails these benighted souls of the Balkans or any other region of our globe. The totalitarian iron fist of Communism put a lid on the pot of violence for something less than 70 years, but as soon as the outside pressure was gone the centuries-old venom blew the lid off the pot once again. So what is the answer if the might of NATO and the coercion of the United Nations can’t bring this rabid dog of hatred to heel? The answer, my friends, is the gospel of grace. When Gordon Wilson lost his daughter to a 1987 EPA bomb, his response shocked the world. Under five feet of brick and concrete, he heard Marie say her final words, “Daddy, I love you very much.” How many of us would have emerged from that man-made tomb only to dedicate their life to the destruction of those responsible for this atrocity?
But Gordon, a devout Christian, spoke these words from his hospital bed: “I have lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge. Bitter talk is not going to bring Marie Wilson back to life. I shall pray, tonight and every night, that God will forgive them.”
Odd — that sounds vaguely familiar doesn’t it? Something akin to, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” A newspaper later wrote, “No one remembers what the politicians had to say at that time. No one who heard Gordon Wilson will ever forget what he confessed ... His grace towered over the miserable justifications of the bombers.”
It was the heart of forgiveness brought on by the forgiveness that Wilson experienced at the hands of his Savior that enabled him to forgive the unforgivable and to go on to help heal the wounds of his homeland. When he met with representatives of the Irish Republican Army who were responsible for the bombing, he forgave them and asked them to lay down their arms.
And what is true of nations and ethnic groups is true of individuals. “The hatred of the heart engendered by bitter spouses or rejected sons or abused daughters or church damaged parishioners or a host of other categories is all around us.” But to quote Yancey a last time, “Apart from forgiveness, the monstrous past may awake at any time from hibernation to devour the present. And also the future.” Pray for the Balkans — yes! But pray for yourself, as well.
Rev. Gary Cox is minister of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA).