Many of you may have read this epic novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a nineteenth century abolitionist and author. This novel, believed to be the precursor of the Civil War, became such a sensation that President Abraham Lincoln is purported to have said when he met Stowe, "So here is the little lady who made this big war."
The novel tells the story of Uncle Tom, a middle-aged black slave who was sold by his master, Arthur Shelby, in order to pay off his debts. Uncle Tom ends up on a riverboat down the Mississippi River where he befriends a young, white girl named Eva. She falls into the river one night and he rescues her. Augustine St. Clare, Eva's father, buys Tom in order to show his gratitude. The friendship between Tom and Eva deepens as they share their Christian faith. Eva becomes ill and dies, not before asking her father to free Tom. Her father agrees, but before he can do that, he is stabbed to death and his wife reneges on the promise, selling Tom to a vicious plantation owner, Simon Legree.
Legree hates Tom and beats him when he refuses to beat a fellow slave. Tom's faith is sorely tested but he continues to read his Bible and comfort the other slaves. When Cassy, a female slave, decides to run away, Tom encourages her. He refuses to tell Legree where Cassy has gone, so Legree orders his overseers to kill Tom. As Tom lies dying, he forgives the men. Humbled by Tom's forgiveness, both men become Christians. Just before Tom breathes his last, George Shelby, son of Tom's first slave master, arrives to purchase Tom's freedom, but is too late.
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin Uncle Tom's Cabin (Thrift Edition)to highlight the cruelties of slavery. She succeeded in doing so, but Stowe, who was a Christian, also showcased the love of Christ who taught us the value of forgiveness. As He was dying on the cross He also prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23: 34). When Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother seven times, Jesus replied, " I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18: 22).
Do you, or I, have that capacity to forgive your enemies? Or do we hate them as they hate us? If we are Christians we are told, "Do not take revenge ... but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge, I will repay', says the Lord" (Romans 12: 19). As we reflect on slavery and the injustices meted out to our ancestors, let us also focus on Jesus Christ who exemplified love and forgiveness in His life and death.