"Sometime the hating has to stop"
I think forgiveness is probably one of the hardest things we as Christians are called to do- it tends to be easier to forgive those who are our friends and who have let us down or done something against us. To forgive an ‘enemy’ or someone who had really damaged or hurt you or your family is a much tougher ask. However, Jesus does not give us a choice in the matter. We have to forgive- life is too short for grudges or hatred: there is enough of that already.
One person who showed how important it is to “forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:9-13) was someone who did not regard himself as a hero but undoubtedly was one. His name was Eric Lomax. He is perhaps best known for his outstanding autobiography The Railway Man (1995), which was later turned into a profoundly moving film of the same name made in 2013, starring Colin Firth as Eric and Nicole Kidman as his hugely supportive wife Patty.
Eric Lomax was someone who had an incurable interest in railways and train timetables, but things become incredibly real for him when he joined the Royal Corps of Signals with whom he was captured by the Japanese Army following the surrender of Singapore in 1942. There he, like so many others, were ordered to undertake a forced march to Changi Prison and had to work on the infamous Burma Railway- where around 100,000 allied prisoners died.
Whilst working on part of the railway he suffered horrendously at the hands of the Japanese Army’s Military Police, where he was brutally beaten, waterboarded, abused and more, before the end of the war came in 1945.
After the war like so many veterans he could not settle, and he had intense, emotional feelings and mental flashbacks about how he was treated that really crippled him as a person, and which he kept to himself. In particular he disliked the Japanese people who had beaten, interrogated, and tortured him:
“I wanted to do violence to them, thinking quite specifically of how I would like to revenge myself on the goon squad and the hateful little interrogator…I wished to drown him, cage him, to beat him to see how he liked it”
That interrogator’s name was Takashi Nagase. Over the intervening years he like Eric Lomax, had suffered since the war’s end. He would have recurring nightmares of how he had treated Eric and his role in that and other crimes. He tried to atone for what he had done by funding the creation of a Temple of Peace at the River Kwai Bridge. He also wrote a book about his feelings including recounting a spiritual experience he had in the allied war cemetery there where he felt :
“This is it. You have been pardoned”
When Eric and his wife Patty heard read this, she said her reaction was:
“I was so angry really. I just wanted to fire a gun at him”
She could not understand how Nagase could have felt pardoned without being forgiven by the person he had harmed -her husband. She wrote to Takashi Nagase asking if he would be prepared to meet Eric . His reply totally disarmed her, and she said that “her anger drained away, and in its place came a welling of compassion” for both Nagase and her husband. Eric himself, said that at that point “I lost whatever hard armour I had wrapped around me…and Forgiveness became a real possibility”.
Eventually, in 1995, they arranged to visit Mr Nagase in Thailand and then Japan where his first words to Eric were:
“I am very, very sorry” & “50 years is a long time, but for me it is a time of suffering”.
Eric realised that he had to give Takashi Nagase the forgiveness needed and later on their trip in a private meeting with him he told him:
“The war had been over for almost 50 years, that I had suffered much, and that I knew that although he too had suffered throughout this time…..that while I could not forget what happened, I assured him of my total forgiveness”.
The two of them were said to be overcome with emotion and became great friends until Nagase died in 2011. Eric Lomax died the next year, but he did live to see the making of the film based on his remarkable life.
. On the headstone of Eric Lomax’s grave is the following :
“Sometime the hating has to stop”
You can learn more about Eric and see the moment he and Takashi met again below