If I was in the habit of making Top 10 lists, then under Inspirational Individuals of 2013, Maureen Greaves would be right up there near the top. The way she has dealt with the brutal murder of her husband on his way to church on Christmas Eve 2012 and the subsequent trial has been both remarkable and humbling. Her forgiveness of Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster, Alan Greaves’ two killers, has been widely reported in the media and the fact that there has continued to be a good deal of interest one year on is testament to the power of Mrs Greaves’ words and actions.
At the time of the trial verdict I gave the BBC a hard time over the lack of reference to her faith, which has driven her desire to fully forgive Bowling and Foster. It was therefore very pleasing to hear her on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday being interviewed at some length by Sarah Montague. The reason was partly down to her daughter’s marriage in the same church she and Alan attended almost exactly one year on from his death, but Montague did a good job of letting Mrs Greaves open up and talk about what she considered important regarding the murder and trial too.
These are some extracts from the interview:
Sarah Montague (SM): Now there was a court case and convictions for two men, one for murder and one for manslaughter in July. And you said at the time you had forgiven them.
Maureen Greaves (MG): Yes, Indeed. Alan and I have a very, very strong faith in God and on Christmas Eve it’s a night when we truly do celebrate the coming of the Saviour of the World and he came to save people from their sins and so on Christmas Day when I had a moment to be with Alan and my thoughts were turning to prayer and thinking about what had happened to him, I couldn’t help but obviously remember this would be a day when we would celebrate the Saviour coming. And Alan and I too did wrong things and needed forgiveness and so as my thoughts turned to the people who had killed him, I could only get to the stage with God of saying, ‘Please God, help me to forgive them as I know you want me to forgive them – fully and forever, for the rest of my life. And I want to place them into Your hands.’ So the forgiveness wasn’t just in a sense forgiving them, it was saying, ‘God I want to place these men into your hands for you to deal with them and for you to be with them and for one day these men to come to discover just how much You love them.’
SM: Now that was the day after your husband was attacked and before you knew who had done it.
SM: Many people listening to you will find it astonishing that you are in a position where you can forgive somebody for what – I mean, these men didn’t even know your husband?
MG: No, no. And it was indeed a very vicious attack and a very sustained attack. It wasn’t that they just accidentally killed him. You know, they actually did batter him to death. And yet when you’re a Christian and you live your life with God, you do have an enormous sense of wonder that God forgives you for your sins. And of course I haven’t murdered anybody, but I have done wrong in my life as Alan did and one of the wonderful things about Christianity is that you have a God who truly forgives you and forgets what you have done. And therefore it’s through God’s mercy and through God’s loving me that I have been able to extend to Ashley and Jonathan real and true forgiveness.
SM: Can I ask you about that ‘real and true’? Because I know you’ve talked about it being something you repeatedly need to do. Because it’s hard not to imagine that at times you feel rage and anger at them still.
MG: Strangely enough I’ve not had what I call deep rage and anger. I’ve had a very deep bewilderment; a kind of shaking of the head and ‘How could this happen? How could anyone walk down the road and be murdered like this?’
[She then talks about the two times she saw Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster during the trial. Referring to the day in court when the sentences were handed out she continues:]
MG: I looked across at them and found myself thinking, ‘Why am I forgiving these people? They’ve taken from me the person I loved most in the world. And they’ve taken from me the person who loved me the most in the world. And yet it wasn’t long before I was kind of settling down and praying to God and saying again, ‘Father give me the ability to keep on forgiving them as I know you keep on forgiving me the wrongs that I do.’
Mrs Greaves then goes on to talk about the relationship between forgiveness, a need for justice and punishment and how the two are not incompatible. The full interview can be found here.
Sometimes when there are tragedies we pray that God will be able to turn evil on its head and us it for our good. Although I am sure Maureen Greaves would still rather have her husband with her today, his death has given her a platform to share her experiences and faith with millions of others in a way that she never would have been able to if he was still alive. If her words inspire others to find the strength to forgive in the midst of their pain or to turn to God to find comfort in the time of their suffering, then hope can be found in Alan’s death. An experience that could have easily been full of vitriol and hate has instead become one of abundant blessing.
As we come out of the Christmas period, I am reminded of the words of prophecy given by John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, as they continue to echo in Mrs Greaves life:
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)
Maureen Greaves’ proclamation of faith in her saviour Jesus is a wonderful reminder that there is a light so great that even when we walk through the shadow of death, we can still find God’s abundant hope, strength and love in the depths of our darkest days.