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Never beyond hope

by
27 June 2014

John Arnold reads a guide to the healing of relationships

The Book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world
Desmond and Mpho Tutu
William Collins £14.99
(978-0-00-751287-4)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code CT522 )

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 here.

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 Durham.

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