By Mark Stibbe in THE TIMES, 18 August 18 2018
It was my father, Philip Stibbe, who taught me about forgiveness. Dad had been a prisoner-of-war at the hands of the Japanese. For three years he suffered terrible beatings and all manner of tortures. He never spoke about these things, but he did write about it in his book, Return Via Rangoon.
You would think that someone who had been so brutalised would have been bitter. He wasn’t. Dad told us to read The Seed and the Sower by Laurens van der Post, all about a British officer who, after the war, forgave a condemned Japanese sergeant who had mistreated him.
My brother, Giles, my sister, Claire, and I read the story and learnt the lesson. “Forgive those who wound you. Don’t bear grudges.”
In October 2016 Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News came to see me to share that she knew about the horrific abuse that I and other boys had suffered in the late 1970s and early 1980s at the hands of the evangelical Christian barrister John Smyth, who died this week.
When the story came out I saw my abuser again on TV and heard his voice for the first time since 1982. With the help of my wife, Cherith, I managed to navigate my way through the initial turbulence until I came to a point where I had to ask a question: “Am I able to forgive this man?”
The answer didn’t come quickly. It eventually followed in the wake of another question, one I have frequently asked over the years: “What would Dad do?”
Then I had my answer. I knew in my heart that I had to do with this man what Dad had done with those who had abused him. I knew I had to let go of my resentment because, as Nelson Mandela once said, “resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that it will kill your enemies”.
Now that John Smyth has died he will not face justice on this earth; that’s something I cannot control. But I can take control of my emotional life and stop judging him. I can release mercy instead. Doing that, I am no longer a PoW at the hands of bitterness.
And, like the British officer in The Seed and the Sower, I want one day to understand what haunting shadows played on my abuser’s mind, what pain within his soul impelled him to such acts of cruelty. I do not believe in “motiveless malignancy”, as Coleridge called it. To understand is to forgive.
All this I get from my dad, both my earthly father who adopted me and my Heavenly Father who adopted me too. I choose not to live with anger. I choose to forgive my abuser from the heart. By doing these things we walk out of our own captivity.
I do all this, with faltering steps and a frail heart, because these are the things my father taught me.
Dr Mark Stibbe is the author of Home at Last (Malcolm Down Publishing, £8.99)