By Ella Corey
I recently came across a significantly powerful story, one that is well known by many, but I was too young to understand when it happened. A female college student, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, was raped when she was 22 years old. She then testified that a man, Ronald Cotton, raped her in 1984. Eleven years later, after Cotton was sentenced to life in prison, DNA tests proved him not guilty. After this incident and the truth was discovered, the two have forgiven, reconciled, and discovered a powerfully strong friendship.
Jennifer and Ronald don’t need to talk explicitly about faith when they demonstrate their reconciliation. But their story is the Gospel even though they don’t say it outright. Their story is so powerful that their ability to reconcile points to Christ’s power to forgive. Ronald, an innocent man, was tortured and punished for mistakes he did not make. He was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was found guilty by the claim of a woman that was much later determined to be wrong. Mr. Cotton could have easily let this woman ruin his life. Yet somehow he’s freed himself from all hostility.
There’s something else we can take from this story though, something that may go unnoticed. Ronald was not the only victim. Jennifer was a victim as well. Not only was she assaulted, but she also had to feel the remorse of accusing the wrong suspect. Her actions put a man in prison for eleven years. Can you imagine the weight she felt when she discovered this man’s innocence? Can you imagine the guilt, hatred, and blame she put on herself? “Discovering the truth filled me with overwhelming guilt and shame for mistakenly putting an innocent man in prison,” explained Jennifer. “Meanwhile, the guilty person was left to commit further crimes on women. I found it almost impossible to forgive myself.”
Fortunately, Christ also gives us the ability to forgive ourselves. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Because He first forgave us, we then are created new, and no longer have to hold onto any guilt.
Because of this power of forgiveness, Jennifer is set free from her shame. In fact, I find her account even more powerful than his.
“I asked Ron if he could ever forgive me. And with all the mercy in the world he took my hands and with tears in his eyes, he told me he had forgiven me a long time ago. At that moment I began to heal. Ronald taught me how to let go of all that pain; his forgiveness set me free that night. Without Ronald, I would still be shackled to that moment in time, and it would own me forever. I soon discovered that I could even forgive the man who had raped me — not because he asked me to, nor because he deserved it — but because I did not want to be a prisoner of my own hatred.”
- Jennifer Thompson-Cannino
Because Christ redeemed us on the cross, we are all set free. The forgiveness we have received gives us the power to forgive ourselves and others, and no longer allows sin to imprison us.