The swift dismissal of Lady Susan Hussey last week, demonstrates a distinct lack of an important virtue in our society, and one that is central to the Christian faith: forgiveness. Without delving too much into the details of what transpired between Lady Susan Hussey and Ngozi Fulani, I want to use it as an example and a springboard to the wider issue.
For what it’s worth, I was surprised from reading the transcript how tactless Lady Hussey (considering her many years’ experience in a senior position in the Royal Household) was in her conversation with Ngozi Fulani. She clearly got it very wrong in this instance and it is right that we acknowledge that and don’t try to skirt round it.
Our society seems to go one of two ways; it completely denounces individuals with no chance of forgiveness, or it minimises an individual’s actions and suggests that there is no need for an apology. Whereas the Gospel enables us to own our mistakes and to say that something isn’t right, whilst at the same time knowing that we can repent and be fully forgiven.
Lady Hussey joined the Royal Household in 1960 and served the Queen; and then King, for over sixty years, even accompanying her late Majesty to the funeral of Prince Philip. Regardless of her years of service (although testament to her character) does one faux pas, really constitute the reaction it received from Buckingham Palace?
Lady Hussey was forced to step away from her role almost immediately with seemingly no attempt made for reconciliation between Lady Hussey and Ngozi Fulani. Lady Hussey has offered “profound apologies for the hurt caused” to Ngozi Fulani, but was out of her role so quickly that the dust hardly had time to settle. Both the Palace and senior members of the Royal family have gone to great lengths to denounce Lady Hussey’s actions and reaffirm her decision to step away, with little or no public thanks for her six decades of public service.
I think this whole episode speaks to something more prevalent in our society, an overwhelming lack of forgiveness. A society in which we are judged by our mistakes, where there is no room for error and one where we most certainly keep a record of wrong. Why did the Palace feel the need to come down so strongly on Lady Hussey? I think that part of the answer is that it pre-empted a reaction from certain parts of the press and public and it was afraid.
There have been many examples over recent years of public figures falling from grace, one wrong word, one thoughtless action, a point of view that is deemed unpalatable and that’s it, you’re out, with no way back. It is not just public figures that have been subject to this unforgiveness, one only has to spend a few minutes browsing through social media to see that the baying mob is out for blood.
The fundamental problem with all this of course is that every single one of us is in need of forgiveness, both on a macro and micro level. From beginning to end in the Bible we see that as sinful human beings, incapable of saving ourselves and guilty before God Almighty, we need forgiveness. In fact, it is the only way to a restored relationship with God, which Jesus Christ made possible through His death and resurrection. We see Jesus speak often about forgiveness throughout the gospels, perhaps most famously in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
Matthew 18:21-22 reads, ‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’ Jesus then goes on to tell a story about a servant who was forgiven and had his huge debts cancelled by the king, but who himself refused to forgive and cancel the small debt of another servant.
The story ends with a warning, ‘“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”’ (Matthew 18:32-35).
The point of the story is clear, as those who have been forgiven much by God, we should be quick to forgive the transgressions of people against us. As followers of Jesus, we should be modelling forgiveness to the world around us, in our homes, our workplaces, our universities, and wherever God has placed us. We are not to be like the world around us, Romans 12:2a reads, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’
Unforgiveness is untenable and the consequences for society and individuals are grave, because ultimately, we all fall short and we all sin. Society’s answer is to condemn, whereas God enables us to bring our mistakes and our sin to Him and have free and full forgiveness because of Jesus’ victory on the Cross.
Let us be those that point to Jesus in the way that we forgive others, whilst at the same time not shying away from owning our mistakes and calling out injustice wherever we find it. If God has forgiven us, how much more should we forgive others.