So often I hear people say, “What happened to me was so bad that I will never forgive. Forget it.”
Others go so far as to say that it would be unethical to even consider forgiveness. Why? It is because forgiveness is the offering of goodness and sometimes we have to withhold that goodness so that the offending person understands the gravity of the evil act.
Still others make the point that if we hold out the possibility of forgiveness for someone who has been devastated by another’s cruelty, then we are putting unnecessary and harmful pressure on the victim. It is better to permanently shut the door on the possibility of forgiving so that the victim can reduce the pressure of others’ expectations and begin to heal.
Yet, I wonder.
Are there not people who actually do forgive those who have acted atrociously? I know a person who has forgiven the murderer of her child. She visited him in prison and offered the olive branch of forgiveness for his sake.
I know a person who has forgiven the Nazis who almost killed her with inhumane medical experiments and actually did kill her sister.
I know of a person who was shot in the face by a robber and now they go to prisons together to share their story of forgiving and being forgiven.
I know of a person in a wheelchair for life who has forgiven her assailants and also goes into prisons. She does this to let those, who now are locked up for similar crimes, know that there is hope for them. This is done as an outreach of love for those who have not loved.
Either these are genuine and deep demonstrations of forgiveness or they are strong psychological defense mechanisms such as reaction formations, or living an illusion to keep the self from confronting the horror. Yet, if these examples only are lived-illusions, then these false-forgivers would show us their deceptions by, for example, outbursts of anger being displaced onto others, or psychological depression, or panic attacks, or some other psychological challenges that at least occasionally break through the psychological defenses. This is not happening within these forgivers. They say that they now have peace and thriving and their behavior is consistent with these proclamations.
My point is that there is something in some people that is so very powerful that it overcomes the darkest of evil. That “something” is an unconditional love that grows in them. They often, but not always, attribute this growth in love to a personal relationship with God. Sometimes this offer of unconditional love toward those who act savagely upsets close associates and family members, who do not understand and are not ready to hear the word “forgiveness.” In other words, the one who forgives actually pays a price for the forgiveness because of criticism, confusion, and ostracism. Yet, those who decide to forgive persevere through all of this. They say that the forgiveness gives them their life back and they will not give that life now to the critic.
Yes, pressure on others to forgive can lead to challenges in the offended and so we should do our best not to hover over a person until a decision to forgive occurs. At the same time, criticism of a person’s decision to forgive also can be stressful and therefore should be avoided.
We need to let people have their own choice: Some will shut the door on forgiving while others unconditionally offer love to the offender.
And as a final thought, those who courageously forgive are not forgiving **the act** of injustice. Instead, they are forgiving **the person who perpetrated the act.** We forgive persons, not actions.
Are some people completely unforgivable because of their actions? No. Why do I say this? It is because we now know that some people, in fact, do forgive others for unthinkable acts of evil. Will **some people** refuse to forgive? Yes, and this needs to be their choice. There is a very large difference between: 1) all of us deciding to shut the door forever on people who perpetrate particular acts and 2) **some people** resisting forgiving people for such unthinkable acts. It may be good for all of us to keep this distinction in mind.