In 1939 General Francisco Franco, an ambitious Spanish military officer, became the absolute ruler of Spain. Franco took the title El Caudillo – the Leader – and he was ruthlessly so until his death more than 30 years later.
In the decades that he ruled, Franco had 30,000 dissidents executed, imprisoned more than 25,000 political opponents, built concentration camps, suppressed his people, persecuted his challengers, created a vast secret police network to spy on citizens, and even controlled the names that parents could give their newborn children.
Franco famously said at the peak if his power, “I am responsible to no one – only to God and history.” History has not judged him kindly. And God? Well, that’s up to God. To that end, there is a story about Franco’s last days. As he lay dying, a priest was called to his bedside. The priest, having lived under Franco’s regime, asked him what could have been a dangerous question: “My son, have you forgiven all of your enemies?”
El Caudillo replied, “Father, I have no enemies.” The priest asked, “Then you have made peace with them?” Franco reportedly answered, “No. I have no enemies because I killed them all.” The priest and the general, with that deathbed conversation, defined the two ways – the only two ways – that we can be rid of our enemies.
We can destroy them, the way of the world; or we can forgive them, the way of Christ. We have a great deal of experience with the former, but what about the latter? Can we learn to practice the art of forgiveness? And certainly it is an art, not a science.
Forgiveness is not clean, antiseptic, or linear. It is a tangled, bloody mess. It is a storm of emotion and confusion; a process of starting, stopping, circling, advancing, backtracking, building, collapsing, doing better, doing worse, wallowing, and recovering – all muddled together. Yet, forgiveness is necessary. It is the Christ-prescribed path for personal and corporate healing.