During one lunch at the Association for Moral Education conference I attended this month, I found myself sitting next to a Chilean and an Arab Israeli scholar. During our conversation, the Chilean scholar brought up Chile’s conflict with Bolivia and Peru, which lasted from 1879-1884. He noted that, since Chile won, he lives his life, morally, mentally, and emotionally, as if this war is over. It has little influence on his identity as a Chilean. Yet, whenever he meets Bolivians, this war continues to shape them morally, mentally, and emotionally. It is not over. He then made the comment. “For the loser of any conflict, the war is hardly ever over.”
The comment reminded me of two responses to the American Civil War. The winner, Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address closed with these famous lines, “With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Less well-known is Southern theological professor Robert Dabney’s declaration, “I hear brethren say it is time to forgive… I do not forgive. I do not try to forgive. What! Forgive these people, who have invaded our country, burned our cities, destroyed our homes, slain our young men, and spread desolation and ruin all over the land!”
Yes, forgiveness is always easier for the winner. The sign of true Christian love is to forgive when you are the loser–no matter what identity conflict loss you suffered–whether in your political, gender, racial, national, friend, ecclesial, or professional identity. When you forgive as an apparent “loser,” you truly know what it means to forgive like Christ on the cross.