Before coming to Colombia, I probably would have been angry over the results of the Plebiscite. How could a country vote against peace? But after my first month here, after talking to people who opposed the accords and people who supported them, I only feel incredibly sad for both those who voted yes, and those who voted no. I have come to realize that the real challenge to acceptance of the accords was not whether or not the country wanted peace. Everyone around me desires to see an end to this war. But the real challenge was whether the country is ready to forgive.
The greatest opposition to the peace accords was from people who think that the FARC guerillas should face harsher punishments. The accords essentially offered a plea deal: surrender voluntarily, and receive a lighter sentence.* This deal was written into the accords because of the unlikelihood of the FARC agreeing to surrender otherwise. In addition, the ex-combatants would be guaranteed 10 seats in Congress for the next two terms, shifting the conflict from a battle of weapons to a battle of ideas. But for many Colombians, this was not an acceptable solution. Essentially, they were not ready to forgive the FARC for their crimes for the sake of peace.
Watching the country debate the accords over the past month, one parable in particular has been on my mind: the Unmerciful Servant. In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive someone who sins against him. Jesus replies with the famous line “seventy times seven times.” He then tells the parable of a servant who refused to forgive someone who owed him a small debt, despite just having been forgiven a large debt by his king. When the king finds out, he has the servant thrown in prison. Jesus concludes by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Mt 18:35, NIV). It is a fairly straight forward Sunday School lesson, though it is often difficult to apply in practice. God has forgiven us, so we must forgive others. When we hold onto anger instead of choosing to forgive, we only hurt ourselves.
I never thought to see this simple lesson play out on a national scale.
6.5 million Colombians have stated that they are not ready to forgive the FARC. After half a century of war, people have reason to be angry, they have reason to demand justice. But they have decided that the justice of the accords is too merciful. It does not satisfy their anger, and they were not able to let go. And so they have hurt themselves and their country by rejecting a chance at peace.
From here it is unclear what will happen. The question on everyone’s lips is what next? Keep the people of Colombia in your prayers as they search for answers and move forward from here.
*Read more about the consequences ex-combatants would have faced here and here
*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that it was the victims of the FARC who opposed the accords. The victims who lost their homes or loved ones to the violence overwhelmingly voted in favor of the accords.