When You Can’t See Fit to Forgive
by Kim Phuc Phan Thi
Thirty-five years ago, I sat on the cold, hard floor of Saigon’s central library, hiding from communist “minders” who had been stealing me away for interviews. Anti-war vitriol from the “napalm girl” was a hot commodity, and translators could make me “say” whatever they wished.
I had grown up religious in the CaoDai faith. Despite my deep devotion, I never received a single answer to prayer and never knew a moment of peace. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Bahai—in the library, I pulled books on each one. And then I reached for a Vietnamese New Testament.
I read that Bible for hours, at last coming to Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”1 Well, my list of “enemies” was a mile long; how could I be expected to forgive those who had dropped napalm bombs on my village, leaving me burned to within inches of life? And then there were the communist officials—they had ruined my life and stolen my dreams. I was supposed to forgive ones such as these?
“Not a chance,” I whispered, as I slammed the Bible shut. “This religion is not for me.”
Weeks later, my desperation led me to the doorstep of suicide. “This is the only fitting ending to such a terrible story,” I thought.
Still I bartered with God. “If you will send me someone who loves you and can teach me how to love you too,” I prayed, “then I will abandon this suicide plan.”
The following morning, I walked into a Christian church as a perfect stranger and walked out with a beloved friend named Thuy. She loved Jesus and she taught me most of what I know about God. From Thuy, I learned how to pray, and how to study the Scriptures. I became transformed until the rage that had consumed me was nowhere to be found.
One morning, the Lord prompted me. “Kim,” I sensed him saying, “I want to talk to you about your list. . .”
“Yes, Lord?” I whispered, eager for input.
“Kim,” God replied most tenderly, “the only way you can forgive all of those people is to realize that you are at the top of the list.”
Ah, He was right. I was my own worst enemy first. I had scorned and wronged God, I had denied him and fled. I had been in need of such forgiveness, and it had quickly been offered to me. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord,” his Word boasts, that person “shall be saved.”2 I had called, and I had been saved. His graciousness covered my sin.
God had forgiven me all the wrongs done to him, and yet I was refusing to forgive wrongs done to me? I quickly turned my “enemies” list into my prayer list. What was once turmoil now turned to peace.
About the Author: On June 8, 1972, during the Vietnam War, a little girl made world news when she was photographed escaping her Vietnamese village, which had been bombed with napalm. Nine-year-old Kim Phuc was so badly burned that she was not expected to survive, but after fourteen months in a Saigon hospital and sixteen skin-graft surgeries, she returned to her village to begin rebuilding her life.
1 Luke 6:27-28, KJV.
2 Romans 10:13, KJV.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.