2012-02-01 - The Power of Forgiveness
"And forgive us our sins as we also forgive those who have sinned against us." Matthew 6:7-9 (NCV)
Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." Matthew 18:21,22.
I just finished reading "Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy." This book described the Amish community's response to the shooting of ten young girls at a local school in 2006. Five of the ten girls died. One family lost two daughters. The shooter killed himself after shooting the girls. He stated in a suicide note that he was angry at God for the death of his infant daughter, and wanted to "get even" by harming other young girls.
The forgiveness angle became the focus of the story in the media, as the Amish response was contrasted with the rage and lashing out that might be expected. By contrast, the Amish community expressed concern for the shooter's family, even attending his funeral and reaching out to his wife, children, and parents. They understood that this family had lost a loved one, as well, and that they should not be held responsible for his actions.
Over and over, members of the Amish community expressed the necessity of forgiving Charles Roberts (the shooter) for his actions that day. To the Amish, according to the authors, forgiving those who have wronged us is a matter of obedience to the teachings of the Bible. They stated that the Amish believe that, as Christians, they must forgive to have unbroken fellowship with God. They believe we've all committed wrongs, and that we must forgive those who wrong us because God has forgiven us for the ways we've wronged Him and other people.
They also believe forgiveness is essential to being able to heal and move forward without being weighed down by even more negative emotions, the authors said. They admitted to anger, grief, and feelings of sadness, but were clear about what they had to do in the face of such horrific events. They drew on their beliefs about God's ultimate goodness, the afterlife, and the spiritual qualities of compassion and grace - to get through a very dark and tragic time in their community.
Some critics said the Amish forgave too quickly and that this would repress or short-circuit their normal grieving process. My view after reading it was that, rather than being distracted by feelings about the shooter and making him the focus, forgiveness allowed them to focus more on their loss and the loved ones they were having to say goodbye to. Other critics said it was unnatural not to want revenge and justice. The Amish viewed Charles Roberts as mentally disturbed (which he clearly was). If he had lived, would they have wanted him to receive help or punishment or both? It was pointed out that forgiveness does not mean pardon, and that when someone has done wrong, they are still expected to deal with the consequences.
They also mentioned that forgiveness doesn't always mean reentering into a relationship with the person who has committed the wrong. A lot about that depends on what was done, how repentant and committed to change that person is, and if an ongoing relationship would be wise or healthy for all involved. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. It also doesn't mean denying negative emotions, or pretending that everything is fine when it isn't.
There is so much I could say about the topic of forgiveness. It is definitely not an easy concept to sort out or to put into place. I talk with clients about it a lot, and this often means grappling with the questions more than coming up with good answers. I certainly know that forgiveness is easier said than done. I also know it is not condoning what someone else did. Forgiveness is about accepting that something happened that shouldn't have. It is about not continuing to be a "victim." When we hold on to hatred or anger, the person who wronged us is allowed to continue making us miserable. Why continue allowing them to have power, when they've done enough to cause us problems already?
Forgiveness is about turning the person an the situation over to God and trusting Him . It doesn't happen easily, and can involve a lot of prayer. I think that, sometimes, the choice to forgive has to be made over and over. It can often be a process, not a one-time thing. God knows our hearts, and will help us to do what He has asked of us.
Most of us will never face a situation quite like the one described in this book, but I think anyone who has struggled with holding a grudge, resentment, bitterness, and the need to forgive offenses, whether large or small, could benefit from reading it.