An Extraordinary Story of Forgiveness and Transformation
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
A Course in Miracles claims that we can literally raise people from the dead, just as Jesus did in his earthly life (see T-1.I.24:1). There is, after all, no order of difficulty in miracles. But this seems very hard to believe, to put it mildly, and the question naturally arises: Are there examples of people actually doing this? Actually, there are reports of people raising the dead, and while it’s hard to say how much truth there is to them without careful investigation, I personally find them intriguing. Here, I’d like to share the story of Francis, a man who was purportedly raised from the dead through prayer and a remarkable commitment to forgiveness of the man who “killed” him.
I found the story in a fascinating book I’m reading, titled Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, by Candy Gunther Brown. This book is a scholarly examination of scientific studies that have tried to determine whether or not prayer has empirically verifiable healing effects. Brown strikes me as someone who is both a rigorous scholar and open-minded regarding the possible effects of prayer. It is because of this that I’m inclined to give more weight to the following story than I otherwise might. It is not told by a true believer trying to win converts; it is told by a careful researcher who presumably did some checking to confirm the details.
Now, on to the story: Francis is a South African man associated with what was called Iris Ministries (now called Iris Global), a well-known Pentecostal group that does missionary work in Africa, including prayer healing. One day during a church conference, he went outside to lock the gate and was accosted by a gang of four rough men. The men came up to Francis, said “We want to kill you today,” and beat him severely. After they left, he was taken to the hospital, was pronounced dead at 11 pm, and was taken to the hospital morgue. Members of the church had been praying for him from the time his beaten body had been found, and they continued to do so after he had been pronounced dead. In addition to those who prayed from a distance at the church, a smaller group gathered around his body at the morgue.
Then, at 12:15 am, something remarkable happened: Francis began to breathe. He was alive! But he was still horribly injured—his eyes and lips were swollen shut, and he was in excruciating pain. It seemed that, as amazing as his return to life was, he was in for a very long recovery process. In his precarious state that night, he could only bring himself to utter two words to those gathered around him: “Forgive them.”
The next morning, the police called the church and said that they had caught one of the men who assaulted Francis, and they wanted someone from the church to come to the police station to press charges. But the church had heard about Francis’s words from the night before, and informed the police that they would not press charges. This upset the police, who wanted this man to be punished for his crime, but the church held fast. And then, within minutes of that exchange between the police and the church, another remarkable thing happened: The hospital called and asked for someone to come pick up Francis right away, because inexplicably, he was completely healed. His injuries were gone, he was back to normal, and so there was no need for him to be in the hospital any longer.
Upon being released from the hospital, Francis went directly to the police station to ask that his assailant be set free. Francis himself reports what happened next:
I asked them just to release that man because I’ve already forgiven him. The police officers firstly denied my request because they say, “How do you forgive someone who has beaten you to death like this?” [Note from Greg: Quite an ironic thing to say to a guy who is quite obviously alive.] Then I said to them, “No, this guy doesn’t know what he did.” Then the police accepted my request. Then they released him. Then I hugged him, and tell him that God loves him. And then I said to him, “You know my brother, I’ll urge you to just accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and go back home happy.”
The man did become a Christian, and is now an active evangelist in the same network that Francis is a part of.
What a story! Francis and his fellow church members firmly believe that he was literally raised from the dead and miraculously healed of his injuries. Of course, it’s impossible to definitively prove their version of what happened: As Brown points out, it’s possible that he still had faint life signs undetected by the doctors at the hospital, and it’s possible that his injuries healed more quickly than usual through natural processes (though I have to say that this latter possibility seems extremely unlikely to me). But clearly, something very out of the ordinary happened here, whatever the precise mechanism of it.
Moreover, Brown points out an aspect of this story that she finds especially intriguing, as I do: the apparent role of forgiveness in the healing that occurred. In her words:
An interesting feature of this account is that the recovery was incomplete until just after Francis and his church—perceiving God’s love to have been demonstrated concretely by resurrection—were motivated to forgive the men who had attempted, apparently successfully, to beat Francis to death. This act of forgiveness left such an impression on the assailant—who viewed himself as a murderer—that he changed his life course to become a Christian evangelist.
The suggestion is that Francis’s miraculous recovery was facilitated in large part by his and his church’s commitment to forgiving his assailant, and I think this is likely true. I also think it’s likely that this miraculous recovery greatly deepened the impact of that forgiveness on the assailant, for it demonstrated in an unmistakable way that Francis hadn’t really been hurt. Indeed, according to the Course, genuine forgiveness is rooted in the idea that no harm really occurred, and the Course speaks frequently of the power of demonstrating your invulnerability to your brother as an expression of your forgiveness. For instance:
You cannot be hurt, and do not want to show your brother anything except your wholeness. Show him that he cannot hurt you and hold nothing against him, or you hold it against yourself. This is the meaning of “turning the other cheek.” (T-5.IV.4:4-6)
Imagine, then, what likely happened in the heart of the man who assaulted Francis. He thought he had killed him—the police must have told him that the man he assaulted was dead, and he would be severely punished for that. He could easily have envisioned Francis saying to him something like “Behold me, brother, at your hand I die” (T-27.I.4:6). But then, all of a sudden, the entire situation was miraculously reversed. Francis himself, the man he thought he had murdered, came to him, completely unharmed. And rather than delivering him to the authorities to be punished, Francis hugged him, said God loved him, called him brother, invited him to accept Jesus, released him from prison, and told him to go home and be happy. Can you imagine what a transformation that must have brought about deep in that man’s being? It must have been staggering. No wonder he wanted to follow the same spiritual path that Francis was on!
So, was Francis literally raised from the dead? I obviously can’t know for sure, though I do believe such things are possible, and I’m open to the possibility here. But it probably doesn’t matter too much whether he was really dead or, in the immortal words of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, only “mostly dead.” At the very least, there was here an extremely unusual physical healing of a man who was brutally victimized, a profound expression of love and forgiveness on the part of that victimized man and his fellow followers of Jesus, and a stunning transformation in the heart of the forgiven victimizer.
And that’s what touches my heart so much here: the power of forgiveness to bring healing and transformation both to the forgiver and to the forgiven, even in a situation where forgiveness seems impossible. We are offered here another of the “extreme examples” the Course loves so much, powerful evidence that Jesus’ admonitions to respond to even the most extreme attack with love can really be lived out in this world. What an amazing demonstration of the message that the Course calls us to give our brothers everywhere, no matter what happens, even in the face of seeming death: “Behold me, brother, at your hand I live” (T-27.I.10:7).
Source of material commented on: http://tinyurl.com/jf6qcrq