THE Lord's Prayer unites all Christians, whatever their
denomination or tradition, and it expresses in one succinct
sentence a core Christian teaching. "Forgive us our trespasses as
we forgive those who trespass against us."
God's desire to forgive is limitless, but what of our own? "How
many times must I forgive my brother?" Peter asks Jesus. "Seventy
times seven," comes the reply - in other words, there should be no
limit to human forgiveness, either. This book encourages readers to
examine themselves. Do we harbour petty grudges too long? Have we
the capacity to cope with genuine injustice against us?
Carmel Thomason's Against the Odds: True stories of
forgiveness and healing is a book that contains eight
real-life stories centred on forgiveness. After each story, there
is a short reflection by a "professional", including one by Bishop
Peter Forster, and another by Sean Murphy QC.
The first four stories tell of events that appear to be
unforgivable. The the second group of four give some everyday
examples of situations where forgiveness has proved difficult.
Ray, who was a Japanese prisoner during the Second World War,
tells of the horrible cruelty that he witnessed and suffered. "We
came out of captivity breathing fire and vengeance against the
whole Japanese nation," he recalls.
More than 60 years later, he was able to write: "If we are to
lay the foundations of lasting peace in the world, there can be no
room in our hearts for hatred."
As a Christian, he says that he was taught to forgive his
enemies, but he observes, with notable understatement, that, for
him, "it took a bit of doing."
In another wartime story, Bill tells of being blinded and
disabled, and how, over time, he found contentment and fulfilment
in a life that he once thought had been wrecked irreparably. "I
learned long ago that to bemoan the loss of what you can never have
leads to disappointment, frustration, and unhappiness."
Neither Bill nor Ray had a named individual to forgive. Joanne
however, five years after being raped, found herself face to face
with her attacker. A meeting was arranged between her and Darren as
part of a restorative-justice programme. It was a difficult and
emotionally charged encounter on both sides, which ended with
Joanne's acknowledging her attacker's remorse and accepting his
apology. "Now I can think about my future," Joanne concluded.
"Forgiving Darren gave me my life back, and it felt brilliant."
In contrast, the book tells the story of two brothers, Tom and
James, who fell out over nothing of seeming importance and did not
speak to each other for six years. In her reflection on the tale,
the Revd Julie Martin notes that, while forgiving those who have
wronged us is difficult, so, too, is forgiving ourselves -
especially if, deep down, we realise that we have played a part in
putting up the barriers.
A specially challenging chapter, with which many Christians
might identify, is Gary's story. He had no human being to blame:
his anger was not directed against a fellow human being, but
against God. His wife, Zenka, was pregnant when things went badly
wrong. Eventually the doctors were unable to detect a heartbeat and
knew that the child in the womb had died. Gary was an active
churchgoer, and felt that the prayers that God usually answered for
him had been ignored. He found himself unable to pray. "I slammed
my Bible shut."
At the end of the book, just before a list of contacts for
organisations that might provide practical help for those wanting
to explore forgiveness, the author asks readers to tell their own
stories. "Think about a time in your life when you have forgiven"
is the first task, before moving on to "think about times when you
need to be more forgiving," and "situations where you feel that you
The author has not written a book to be read passively. Each
chapter concludes with a reflection and a set of relevant questions
for the reader to engage with.
Claire discovered that her husband, Simon, was addicted to
pornography. "My instinct was to yell, 'You're horrible. You
disgust me.' But where was the grace in that? If I really wanted to
help Simon, then I had to judge him less harshly."
The reader is asked to look for what he or she finds surprising
and inspiring about the couple's relationship as it resolves.
The book might seem a surprising choice for an adult reading
group expecting something more intellectually demanding. But that
is not to say that it does not ask some very searching questions.
The prompt questions and their subsidiaries should stimulate wider
and deeper discussion.
Ted Harrison is a former BBC religious affairs
Against the Odds: True stories of forgiveness and healing,
by Carmel Thomason, is published by BRF at £8.99 (Church Times Bookshop £8.10 - Use code
CT870 ); 978-1-84101-739-6.
AGAINST THE ODDS - SOME QUESTIONS
Ray "came out of captivity breathing fire and vengeance". Should
he have felt differently?
What do you think kept Bill alive?
Who receives more, Joanne or Darren?
Can we compare Penny's story to Bill's? Should we?
Does Terry blame the Church too easily for his
Why is "Gary's Story" not called "Gary and Zenka's Story"?
Should Claire have married Simon?
With whom do you more easily identify: Tom or James?
Whose story did you find most affecting?
IN OUR next reading-groups page, on 6 February, we will print
extra information about the next book. This is We Are All
Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. It is
published by Serpent's Tail at £7.99 (CT
Bookshop £7.20 - Use code CT870 );
Rosemary Cooke has spent most of her adult life wondering what
became of her sister, Fern. Her brother, Lowell, has been missing
for a decade, and is wanted by the FBI; her eminent father drinks
too much; her mother is a nervous wreck; and her friends range from
loyal to dangerous. She surveys the chaos of her life in the
knowledge that her scientist parents used her childhood as an
experiment, which has had devastating and heart-rending
consequences for them all. We Are All Completely Beside
Ourselves was shortlisted for this year's Man Booker
Karen Joy Fowler grew up in Indiana, and is best-known as the
author of The Jane Austen Book Club (2004), which became a
bestseller in the United States and was later turned into a
She has also written works of literary fiction, fantasy, and
science fiction, and collections of short stories. She now lives in
Books for the next two months:
March: The Pilgrim's Progress by John
April: The Children of Men by P. D.