The Book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing
ourselves and our world
Desmond and Mpho Tutu
William Collins £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code
I HAVE been fortunate enough in life to have met several saints.
One was Heinrich Grüber, the Dean of the Protestant Cathedral in
Berlin. He was known for having gone to see Hitler to tell him that
what he was doing was wrong. When I met him after the war, he was
sitting on a floor answering students' questions. One said, "You
actually met Hitler. Wasn't he the very devil?" "Oh no," said
Grüber. "He was just like everyone, that is to say, like Jesus."
That other saint Desmond Tutu would have agreed.
That no one, however wicked, is a monster but a fellow human
being, capable of forgiving and being forgiven, is a common theme
of this admirable book, co-written with his daughter Mpho. Much of
the theory comes from her and her studies. Much of the wisdom comes
from him and his long experience, especially, but not only, of the
struggle against apartheid, and of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, which dealt with its aftermath.
This is at one level a handbook, useful to all, indispensable to
anyone who desperately needs to forgive or be forgiven. After
introductory chapters about forgiveness in general, we are taken
along a fourfold path: telling the story, naming the hurt, granting
forgiveness, and renewing or releasing the relationship. Each
section concludes with a poetic prayer, a summary, an exercise in
meditation, a stone ritual, and advice on keeping a journal. There
is little that is explicitly and much that is implicitly Christian
At another and deeper level, this is a series of stories,
sometimes told once, sometimes interwoven into the whole book,
always illuminating and profoundly moving. The authors tell their
own stories, too. Mpho's friend and helper was brutally murdered in
her home. Desmond writes of the petty humiliations, as well as of
the larger-scale injustice, of the apartheid regime. Above all, he
speaks of his long struggle to forgive his own father for his
drunkenness and brutality. The psychologist C. J. Jung says that on
the Cross it is not so much man in Christ paying the price of sin
to the Father, as God in Christ making reparation to man for a
world in which suffering and death are inevitable. He is in
agreement with Article II of the Thirty-Nine, which states that
Christ "was crucified . . . to reconcile His Father to us",
whereas, as every ordinand knows, it should read, "to reconcile us
to his Father".
Is it the hard won ability to forgive his father and ours, that
underlies Desmond Tutu's astonishingly profound insights into the
nature of forgiveness itself?
The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is a former Dean of