Sometimes the hating has to stop

Pentecost 14. 2014
Matthew 18:21-35
Marian Free

In the name of God who desires that we let go of bitterness and hatred so that our own lives might be enlarged and enriched. Amen.

Sometimes the hating just has to stop.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered Dendy Direct – a way to see movies on my iPad. Since the closure of Video stores in most of Brisbane, I have been trying to find a way (a legal way) to watch videos on line. This may just be the answer. The first movie I downloaded was Railway Man, a movie I had wanted to see, but missed when it was at the theatre. If you haven’t seen it, it is the most extraordinary story of a British signals officer who survived the experience of the Burma railway in WWII.

As you might imagine, it is not a movie for the faint-hearted.

In summary, when the British surrender, the signals officers destroy all their equipment so that it cannot be used by the Japanese. Despite the urgency, Eric Lomax manages to distribute enough radio components among his fellow officers to enable them to build a radio wherever they end up. The soldiers are crowded on to trains and taken to a labour camp in Thailand to work on the Burma railway. Because of their technical skills, Eric and others are put to work as engineers – repairing trucks and machinery. The reconstructed radio enables them to listen to news of the outside world and in particular the progress of the war. When the Japanese find the radio, Eric and his friends are accused of transmitting information to the British. As a result, Eric is severely beaten and then cruelly tortured by the Japanese who refuse to believe that the radio was only able to receive information not to transmit any.

Eric’s experience of the camp leaves deep psychological scars. After the war he finds no peace of mid, but becomes obsessed with revenge. Some thirty to forty years after the war he discovers that one of his tormentors is not only still alive but is now leading tours of the very camp in which he presided over so much agony and pain. The man, Takashi Nagase, has somehow managed to avoid being put on trial for war crimes and seems to be getting on with his life in a way that Eric and his friends cannot. His victims are furious.

Egged on by one of his fellow prisoners, Eric finally makes the trip to Thailand. His intention is to confront and to then to kill his tormentor. What follows is extraordinary. At first it appears as if he will carry out his intent. He enters the camp ( ow a museum) after closing time, corners Takashi and takes him into the interrogation room. Now it is Eric, not Takashi who is the interrogator. Eric demands answers. He wants the former soldier take responsibility for his actions, to admit to being complicity in the murder of the thousands of prisoners who lost their lives on the railway. Despite his fury, Eric finds that he cannot kill Takashi. Instead he takes him outside locks him in one of tiny bamboo cages once used to incarcerate Allied soldiers.

Eric leaves Takashi in the cage while he retraces his steps into the torture room. Memories of the horrific torture come flooding back but even so, he cannot kill his former torturer. Returning outside he sits on the beside Takashi’s cage and listens to his story.

That is not the end. Some time later Eric returns to Thailand with his wife Patti. There they meet Takashi once again. This time he does what he could not do before – he admits his culpability. He bows deeply and, without making excuses, he apologizes saying: “I don’t want to live that day anymore.” To which Lomax responds: “Neither do I”. Lomax gives Takashi which reads. “The war has been over for many years. I have suffered much but I know that you have suffered too and you have been most courageous and in working for reconciliation. While I cannot forget what happened in Kamanchinabri, I assure you of my total forgiveness. Sometime” , he writes, “the hating has to stop.”

In that moment, both men are set free from their past. In fact they become great friends.

Sometime the hating has to stop.

Surely that is what forgiveness is all about – breaking the cycle of recrimination and hate, letting go of the past so that it does not contaminate the present and understanding that exacting revenge does not make the problem go away. Hatred and bitterness do not ease the pain – they only serve to perpetuate the trauma. An obsession with vengeance is not a solution, it eats away at the victim, but it does not even touch the perpetrator. In the end, the only way to be released from the suffering of the past is to let it go.

Jesus understood this, which is why he tells Peter to forgive seventy times. To forgive is not to condone or to forget abuse, violence, torture or other atrocities – but rather to deprive them of their power to destroy, to reduce their ability to infect the present and above all to allow the victims and sometimes also the perpetrators to get on with their lives .

Sometime the hating has to stop – the self-hatred and the hatred of others – because only when we stop hating will we be at peace with ourselves and with the world. And only when the hating stops will there be peace in the world.
The movie Railway Man is based on the real story of Eric Lomax which is recorded in a book of the same title. There is also a documentary about Lomax and Takashi.


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