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Thursday, November 5, 1998

When you pick up a book by an American that dares to carry an endorsement from Fidel Castro and prints a picture of the author this year with the Cuban leader, you know that you are dealing with an independent-minded person.

When you pick up a book by an American that dares to carry an endorsement from Fidel Castro and prints a picture of the author this year with the Cuban leader, you know that you are dealing with an independent-minded person. Castro calls the book, ‘An important work on a theme of significance for all humankind.’

When you read the last chapter by an African-American writer disputing the whole premise of the book and suggesting that its message must follow political action not precede it, you know the author must be an honest one. Mumia Abu-Jamal writes, ‘My heart has been called to political action: to change hellish realities, and to try to transform this world from the hell it is for billions of her inhabitants. Of course, the message of the book, which is clear from its title, is itself pretty radical and potentially more powerful politically than Abu-Jamal may realize. The title is: ‘Seventy Times Seven - the Power of Forgiveness.’

I must disclose the fact that the book also carries a blurb from me repeating something I have said on this station and written about in my own book, ‘The Forgiveness Factor,’ that ‘taken seriously, the message of Seventy Times Seven,’ will help us prepare for the next millennium. Christian writer Philip Yancey calls the book ‘a treasure trove of stories’ and that is how I regard it. If you need convincing or want to convince others that forgiveness is powerful and an effective tool for bringing society together, doing as much for the forgiver as for the one who is forgiven, then this book is for you. On the cover we are reminded by George MacDonald that ‘it may be infinitely worse to refuse to forgive than to murder, because the latter may be an impulse of a moment of heat, whereas the former is a cold and deliberate choice of the heart. It is a treasure trove of stories of real people whose lives have been scarred by every kind of suffering, from sexual abuse to horrific war wounds, and who could have allowed themselves to remain victims of the way they have been treated by other individuals and society, but have decided to strike out on a different course.

The author of this unusual book is the Rev. Johann Christoph Arnold, the elder of the Bruderhof Communities which has about 2500 members in the US and Britain. He has written three other books and is managing editor of the Communities' quarterly journal, ‘The Plough.’ He and his wife, Verena, have eight children and sixteen grandchildren. Forgiveness is the way to peace and happiness,’ he writes. ‘It is also a mystery, and unless we seek it, it will remain hidden from us. This book is not intended as a theology of forgiveness - it is impossible to tell someone how to forgive - but I do hope it can help illustrate why forgiveness is needed. Forgiveness is possible. In the following stories I will try to lead you to its door. Once there, only you can open it.’ Chapters include subjects as varied as ‘Forgiveness when reconciliation is impossible,’ ‘Forgiveness in the face of bigotry,’ and ‘Forgiving God.’ Theologian J.I.Packer, from Regent College, Vancouver, writes in the foreword, ‘There is much discernment, much authority, and much food for thought in what Arnold has written, and in the personal stories that he includes. This is a book to be read, reread, and pondered deeply.’ It is certainly appropriate that at the start the author reproduces on their own on a page the challenging words of Jesus, whose teachings are the basis of the communal life of their communities: ‘If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Surely the tax gatherers do as much as that. And if you greet only your brothers, what is extraordinary about that? Even the heathen do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness, just as your heavenly father's goodness knows no bounds.’