The beautiful mystery of forgiveness

Simon Smart contemplates the Abdallah family’s response to their children's death, and Christianity's resources of grace and forgiveness.

It felt too terrible to contemplate the news this week of the deaths of four children, three from the same family, mown down on a Sydney suburban street by an alleged drunk driver.

But it was the response of the parents of these kids that took everyone’s breath away. “They’ve gone to a better place,” said the children’s father Daniel Abdallah, while his wife, Leila, was somehow able to talk about forgiveness for the driver and her refusal to hate him, because “that’s not who we are”.

Comedian Wendy Harmer tweeted, “Such extraordinary compassion and forgiveness in the depths of such terrible loss. Who among us could match it?”

Last year I interviewed the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London. Archbishop Angaelos told the story of the 20 Egyptian Copts kidnapped and beheaded by ISIL in 2015. When he received the news of their deaths, Angaelos pulled his car over and tweeted “Father forgive.” He said it was his first instinct and felt like the right thing to do.

I had to admit that would not be my first instinct.

His reply? “As a Christian, I would say, it comes from a very deep faith, a realisation that we are forgiven … so we need to forgive as well. Forgiveness is actually a liberation,” he told me.

The grieving Abdallah family are members of a Maronite church, a community that has survived centuries of persecution. It appears it was their enduring faith that gave them such grace and hope in the face of the worst that life could throw at them. As Guardian columnist Paul Daley wrote in response, “Wherever that love and forgiveness came from, millions of people … are pondering the beautiful, provocative mystery of it all.”