It was one of those strange coincidences of life which took place near the old River Kwai in Thailand. At this site during World War 2, the Japanese occupation army used slave labor to build a Thai-Burmese jungle railway. Executions, starvation, cruelty, and tropical diseases resulting from a lack of sanitation and health care took the lives of more than 100,000 people–mostly Asians along with Americans, Australians, Dutch, and some 16,000 British soldiers.
A half-century later, fate brought some of the Japanese and the British together again. A group of Japanese veterans returned to the old River Kwai to pray for forgiveness and to make peace with themselves before they also went across the bridge that leads to Eternity. The same day, a group of British vets just happened to also visit the same place, slowly walking over the bridge across the River Kwai, reliving the horrors which had taken place more than half a century before.
Both groups–unbeknown to the other–happened to schedule lunch at a nearby cafe. According to a press dispatch, “Each group knew that the other was a couple tables away but made no attempt to recognize the other’s presence.” At first, it was like neither wanted to admit the other existed. Then, Takashi Nagase, a 76-year-old Japanese veteran who has spent decades striving to bring reconciliation and healing to people following the hideous tragedies of the war, asked a reporter if he would be so kind as to ask the head of the British delegation if they might speak to each other.
What an opportunity for healing and reconciliation for both groups of men, once bitter enemies but now living in the sunset years of their lives! Arthur Lange, 73, of Manchester, the leader of the British, responded, “What the Japanese did was unforgivable. If I came over, I would spit in his face. It is better for his own safety if I don’t.” Within minutes the Japanese group quietly left the restaurant and made their way on their journey. The British, once prisoners of the Japanese, also left the River Kwai. No longer prisoners of the Japanese, they were yet prisoners, prisoners of their own hatred and bitterness.
At the height of the Los Angeles riots that devastated the city, a black leader approached a group of young people burning and looting and asked, “Why are you doing this?” They replied, “Because of the injustices done to our people for 400 years.” She then asked, “When will the scales balance? When will you know when is enough?” And they could not answer.
How long should you carry bitterness and anger in your hearts for the injustice which has been done to you? How long is enough? Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14,15). Some opportunities present themselves only once. For those who happened to meet at the River Kwai on that warm day, there is no going back, no second chance. Before death silences the one whom you need to forgive, better learn to say it, to ask for it, to give it.
When you live with bitterness and anger you become your own worst enemy, and you are imprisoned by emotions more deadly than a sniper’s bullet or a jungle disease. The one who dies with bitterness carries that cancer with him into eternity, but he who forgives can also find the forgiveness of our heavenly Father. Remember, friend, some opportunities come only once; don’t miss them.
Resource Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:1-11
Text: For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
GUIDELINES with Harold Sala – July 21, 2017