“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
Last Sunday I was away on a trip and missed the opportunity to editorialize a lesson on the subject of “forgiveness” that would have been so appropriate to the date of December 7th. As a lot of you know from personal remembrance and the rest of us know from history studies, on that date 73 years ago, the Japanese, in a Sunday morning surprise attack, bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii causing great devastation and a catastrophic loss of life and material. On Dec. 8th, 1941 President Roosevelt uttered the immortal words that have since defined that date and occasion: “A date which will live in infamy.”
But, you might be asking, “How does the bombing of Pearl Harbor have anything to do with ‘forgiveness?” and you’d not be remiss in asking such a question. I’m going to relate something to you that directly pertains to that event and also directly relates to a tremendous lesson on “love and forgiveness.”
Of course, nothing of this temporal, earthly life can compare with the lesson shown to man by Jesus Christ on the cross when he uttered the above cited words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The people Christ forgave from the cross were killing the Son of God, the Messiah sent from God to save man from his sins. But, the lesson stemming from this terrible and tragic event of Dec. 7, 1941, which began the long and destructive war with Japan, I feel can be a powerful one.
In setting the scene for our lesson, let me give you a few more dates that will come into play. April 18, 1942; September 2, 1945; the years 1948 and 1949. You will see how these dates come into play as we go through this lesson. And now, let’s get the lesson started.
On the morning of Dec. 7th, 1941 a flying armada of 183 bombers and fighters, led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, attacked the various military bases at Pearl Harbor and nearby towns. As earlier mentioned, it was a devastating attack. Capt. Fuchida was the pilot who gave the now-famous radio call “Tora Tora Tora” which signaled the attack. He was also at the Battle of Midway and several other major battles of the war. Was shot down several times and also wounded several times, however he survived each time and was assigned to Japan when the war ended.
On the date of April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers, led by LtCol. Jimmy Doolittle took off from the USS Hornet and bombed Japan. After the raid, one of the planes landed in Russia with the rest going on to China where all of them crash landed off the shore or on land. Some were captured and executed, some were saved by the Chinese and others were captured and taken to Japan as prisoners.
On Sept. 2, 1945 Japan officially surrendered to the U.S. on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Capt. Fuchida was present at the surrender signing. He had also been in Hiroshima on military duty until the day before the atomic bomb was dropped there.
After the war, Capt. Fuchida was very bitter and was determined to prove that the U.S. had mistreated Japanese prisoners of war and began interviewing the returning POW’s for this purpose. He found that he could not substantiate any mistreatment, in fact, several of them told him about how well they were treated. Especially by a young 18 year old social worker by the name of Margaret “Peggy” Covell at the POW camp. They told of how much love she showed them while they were there.
He eventually met “Peggy” Covell and learned from her that her parents had been missionaries in the Philippines and had been beheaded there by Japanese soldiers. Because of that fact he could not understand her showing such loving care towards Japanese POWs at the camp. She told him that she knew that her parents had forgiven their captors before they killed them and Capt. Fuchida said that he later determined this to be true.
Intrigued by Miss Covell’s attitude of forgiveness, Capt. Fuchida bought a Bible in 1948 and began reading it. It was also around this time that he saw an American passing out pamphlets entitled “I Was A Prisoner Of Japan” and he took one. This American was Jacob DeShazer, one of the captured crew members from the Doolittle raid and who had spent 40 months in a Japanese prison. He had returned to Japan after the war as a missionary and was teaching “forgiveness to one’s enemies” as taught by the Scriptures.
Capt. Fuchida said that he did not understand what motivated these two people, Miss Covell and Jacob DeShazer, to show the forgiveness and love towards those who had wronged them so much. Then, in 1949, he read Luke 23:34 and realized that this was the source of their love for their former enemies. Capt. Fuchida subsequently converted to Christianity from Buddhism and, because he was revered as a hero of the Japanese Empire for his exploits during the war, was reviled severely for having done so. He became a world traveling missionary himself and wrote a book entitled: “From Pearl Harbor to Calvary.”
I’m going to close with a statement made by Capt. Fuchida in 1970 that I feel speaks directly to our lesson here. Read them with me and see if you don’t agree that his words can’t be echoed by all of us when it comes to “forgiving” and understanding the source of our strength to change our lives and be able to “forgive.”
“I would give anything to retract my actions of 29 years ago at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible. Instead, I now work at striking a deathblow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ. He was the only one powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with His thoughts.”
How many of us would “give anything” to “retract” some of our past actions? But, as Capt. Fuchida said, “it’s impossible.” What’s done is done. But, also like Capt. Fuchida, we can change. With the help of Jesus Christ we can change our “heart,” cleansing it from the evil and hatred that brings about those “actions” which we wished we hadn’t done and will keep us from doing them in the future. If we remove “hatred” we can “forgive.”