During my week of learning about trauma, we explored the ways in which we can move from destructive patterns of thinking and acting to a more positive way of living. One part of this healing process is forgiveness, and we spent some time thinking about what forgiveness is, and what it is not.
Here is what we came up with:
What Forgiveness is:
Saying (not necessarily with words)I still love you
Something that we discover it is possible to do
Different kinds of choices – intellectual, emotional
Finding that you have the power to choose
Gives security to ‘the other’
A process, not a one off event
Peace of the heart
Releases the forgiver
Can be given without being asked for
What Forgiveness is not
Is not accepting that things can stay as they are
Does not eliminate responsibility
Cannot be forced
It is not the same as reconciliation
Not the end of pain
Not just words
Does not erase scars
Is not expressed the same in all cultures
It is not always possible to do
It is not always desirable
Not necessarily two way
It is not easy
It does not minimise wrong doing
It does not have to be received
You forgive the person, not the wrong doing.
I am reading ‘The Non Violent Atonement’ which is a challenging read in every way. It seems to link with the above thoughts about forgiveness. The thing that struck me most was the thought that we can take a decision to forgive someone before they ask for it, or maybe before they want it, or even know that they need it. It seems to me that this is what God has done. God has forgiven the world. But if we are to be fully reconciled to God, we need to receive that forgiveness.
The Christian Gospel is at its heart, saying that God’s action in the world (supremely in Jesus) is to bring about God’s perfect reign that is characterised by Justice and Peace. Central to this action of God is Jesus, who in his life, death and resurrection fully displays that reign of God. For us to be co-workers in this ‘Kingdom Project’ of God we need to recognise the sinfulness and rebellion of humanity, and the need to be reconciled to God.
Full reconciliation requires both God’s forgiveness and our repentance. But – God’s forgiveness is not dependent on our repentance. In forgiving sinful humanity, God is offering hope, and saying that he still loves us, in spite of our sin and rebellion. But for full reconciliation, that forgiveness must be accepted.
Sometimes, we are privileged to hear of this kind of forgiveness being lived out.
In July 2005, Anthony Walker was murdered in a racist attack. At the trial of his killers, his mother, Gee said this: “Do I forgive them? At the point of death Jesus said ‘I forgive them because they don’t know what they did’. I’ve got to forgive them. I still forgive them. My family and I still stand by what we believe: forgiveness. It’s been real hard going, but I feel justice has been done. I’m sure they will get the maximum sentence. She acknowledged that it would be difficult to move on in the aftermath of her son’s death, but added: We have no choice but to live on for Anthony. Each of us will take a piece of him and will carry on his life.”
When asked if she hated her son’s killers, this is what she said:
Gee: I can’t hate. I brought up my children in this church to love. I teach them to love, to respect themselves, and respect others. We’re a huggy family and they go out and portray that same image. We’re a forgiving family and it extended to outside, so it wasn’t hard to forgive because we don’t just preach it, we practise it.
Dominique: (Anthony’s 20 yr old sister) Seventy times seven we must forgive, that’s what we were taught, that’s what the Bible said, that’s what we have to do. It’s an everyday thing. It is hard, it is so hard, but you get through it. It eases the bitterness and the anger if you can wake up in the morning and think ’forgive, forgive, forgive’.
Gee: It is a life sentence. What does bitterness do? It eats you up inside, it’s like a cancer. We don’t want to serve a life sentence with those people.
Has your faith been tested by Anthony’s death?
Gee: (Laughs) Has my faith been tested? Lord, yes. My name’s Gee, not Jesus! It’s been hard, so hard, but I have to follow what the Lord teaches. It is easy to say those things, but when it is you who must do them, it is hard.
Gee: “Why live a life sentence? Hate killed my son, so why should I be a victim too? Unforgiveness makes you a victim and why should I be a victim? Anthony spent his life forgiving. His life stood for peace, love and forgiveness and I brought them up that way. I have to practice what I preach. I don’t feel any bitterness towards them really, truly, all I feel is… I feel sad for the family.