Forgiveness in all its Complexity

October 9, 2012
Cheryl Woelk |
Mr. Koh's story powerfully demonstrates the complexity of forgiveness. On Oct 9, his house was broken into and his mother, wife, and son were brutally murdered. Later, the person who committed the murder, a man named Young-Chul Yoo, was caught. It was discovered that he was actually a serial killer who had committed a series of cruel murders of other innocent victims than Mr. Koh's family. 
At NARPI (Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute), Mr. Koh shared his experience with the Restorative Justice course participants and later with the Trauma Awareness and Healing participants. One evening, he also spoke briefly and shared a documentary that featured part of his story.
The documentary described the anger, pain, and desire for revenge that families of similar murder victims experienced. In an interview, one brother of a murder victim even openly stated his plan to kill Young-Chul Yoo if given the chance. 
Mr. Koh's story, however, took a different direction. He spoke of his agony, loneliness, guilt, and pain of loss and admitted that he considered suicide the only option. In what he thought were his last moments, he began to pray for forgiveness for the killer. Suddenly, his thoughts were transformed. He said he no longer felt hopeless and he chose to live. 
As he learned to be a survivor, he also learned both the power and the challenge of forgiveness on  daily basis. Through his journey, though, he even came to the point of opposing the death penalty and coming to write letters to Young-Chul in jail, expressing his forgiveness.
Sometimes when talking about restorative justice and telling stories of reconciliation, it's easy to make it seem simple. The documentary about Mr. Koh, though, showed the contrast of emotions and ongoing struggle that the decision to forgive takes. His remaining two daughters could not understand his decision and he has to try to convince them of his decision and his work for other victims and offenders. Although he finds hope in the community of others who are striving for ending killing of all kinds, the difficult emotions are all still there and the struggle continues.
Forgiveness is not an easy thing. Yet, we must struggle with it for the sake of our survival, individually, and communally. We need to recognize the sacredness and the difficulty of the choice to forgive. And we need to celebrate the small stories of hope and encouragement. This is to what we are called.
Author Name: 
Cheryl Woelk
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