«Bearing with one another; and forgiving one another; if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:13).
When Jennifer Thomson saw Ronald Cotton released in a TV interview, she said:
«When I saw him on TV, he seemed helpless, hurt and puzzled, The guilt was suffocating me.”
Twelve years earlier, while she was sleeping in a college dormitory, Jennifer was raped by an unknown person. The police asked her to identity the abuser through a one-way mirror. On the other side of the mirror, there were seven men numbered from one to seven. Jennifer chose number five.
«Are you sure?» —she was asked by the agents.
«Totally» —she answered.
Ronald Cotton was number five. Even if he declared himself innocent, Ronald received a life sentence and was imprisoned. Eleven years later, the case was re-opened. The DNA test was conclusive to exonerate him of all his guilt and identify the true abuser. Although he was innocent, he spent most of his years in prison.
Jennifer had made a big mistake. Her misjudgment was not intentional, but her word sentenced Ronald to serve in prison. Now, the weight of her guilt seemed suffocating and she bore it for two before the case had been cleared. Eventually, she asked to talk to Ronald and they both met face to face for the first time. Tearful, Jennifer said:
«Even if I spend the rest of my life telling you how sorry I am for «what I did, I would be far from expressing my true feelings. Could you ever forgive me?”
Ronald Cotton answered her:
«I forgive you. I’m not angry with you and I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life in fear that I might want to get revenge or hurt your family. What I want is that, from now on, we all have a happy life.”
I (J) met Ronald and Jennifer during a private lunch when they came to my university to tell their story. Jennifer’s hate and guilt dissolved when she was forgiven. And the hate that Ronald harbored toward Jennifer, forsending him to prison, also disappeared when he forgave her. Nowadays, they travel together in different places in the world, speaking about the blessings of forgiveness.
Guilt is frequently the root of depression and there is no psychotherapy which can be successful, unless forgiveness is offered and received. But the human heart is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9) and it is not able to truly forgive. Only God produces the will and the ability to do good (Phil. 2:13), and only by coming to Him could we give and receive authentic forgiveness that will bring emotional well-being