Mr. Mathews Otalike’s work, Forgiveness, could not have come at a better time. Our society has not been able to escape the ravages of war, crisis and conflict that have become part and parcel of life for millions of our people around the world today. Crisis, conflict and war today have multiple causes. The gifts of God, meant for our common good have turned into causes of war. Driven by human greed, bad politics, misuse of resources, a total lack of a sense of fairness and equity have turned our world into a cauldron of hate and violence.
St. James addressed this question when he poignantly asked, where do these wars from among you start? (James 4:1). James gives us the answer in the following verses when he suggests that it is unrestrained human greed and the wish to have our way at all cost that is at the root of war. Whatever the causes, the central question is; how do individuals, families, communities and societies finally heal? We have not found a cure to end war and that is because such a cure does not really exist. The challenge therefore is for human beings to design mechanisms for survival and for coping with war and conflict.
Every human society has a sense of right and wrong. Every human heart has a sense of pain arising from the brokenness caused by injury. So, whether we injure an individual or a community, these injuries often register deep scars that often invisibly remain in both the heart and in thought. Different societies have different methods and mechanisms for achieving wholeness. The wounds of injury often remain until a process has commenced to ensure their healing. And, healing comes by different names, wholeness, restoration, reconciliation, appeasement, pacification, mending, and so on. Reconciliation occurs at different levels, depending on the causes of the injury. The circumstances often determine the methods or the processes.
In the last few years, especially after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, many countries resorted to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions as the means of achieving national reconciliation. Thus, South Africa coming out of apartheid, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, among others adopted this methodology. On the whole, what citizens remember is that these processes may not have brought about absolute healings, but they set individuals, families, and communities on the path of self-discovery. They also helped them move forward. But, central to the entire process was the issue of truth telling/confession and the quest for forgiveness by both victims and perpetrator.
The late eminent Jurist, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa once stated that to be effective, justice/reconciliation has to be seen as a three dimensional issue: justice for the perpetrator, justice for the victim and justice for the society. In my reflections, I added a fourth leg, namely, justice before God. My argument was that in the end, if Justice does not bring reconciliation to God by any party, it will not have achieved its purpose.
Mr. Otalike’s excellent and penetrating insights into the theme of reconciliation are as edifying as they are a source of hope for many. He both teaches and counsels the reader. The book wrestles with the difficulties surrounding forgiveness especially given the depths of injury and accepts that it is not an easy path. He draws attention to the murderous excesses of Boko Haram, the Fulani herdsmen, armed robbers, kidnapers and accepts the challenging difficulties of dealing with forgiveness.
In spite of these difficulties, we, as Christians remain joyful and thankful to God that He has given us Jesus Christ, the ultimate source of our reconciliation to God. St. Paul tells us; it is through Him that we have been reconciled to God (Rom 5:2). He has given us consolation, and this consolation now enables us to have the courage and confidence to console others (2 Cor. 1: 3).
Every Christian must be ready to forgive, not because it is easy or comfortable. But, this is because we are the first beneficiaries of God’s mercy and forgiveness too. The Psalmist says that: God has not dealt with us according to our sins nor dealt with us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are far above the earth so great is His mercy to those who fear him (Ps 103: 10ff).
Jesus did not only speak about forgiveness. The sum totality of His life was illustrative of all that He preached. He suffered and died for us and as such, it is by his stripes that we have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
The only reason why God will forgive us is because we have forgiven others (Mt. 6: 14). The only reason why God will listen to our prayer is because we have forgiven those who have offended us (Mk 11: 25). That is why He says; we must set aside our gifts and seek forgiveness before approaching His altar (Mt. 5:24).
We owe Mr. Otalike a debt of gratitude for the painstaking care he has taken to research for this book. It is an eloquent testimony of his commitment to the faith and a source of encouragement. I highly recommend this book to all Catholics, young and old, married and single, priests, seminarians and all of us who believe in the healing power of forgiveness.
Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH
Catholic Diocese of Sokoto