A Difficult Gift to Give and to Receive

April 24, 2019, 12:46 pm

Saturday night in our Restorative Justice club meeting we discussed forgiveness. This illusive concept incites deeply held feelings from those of us who long so desperately for our victims and victims’ families to forgive us. Some are convinced that they do not deserve to ever be forgiven–and humanly speaking, they’re right. Others already live in the freedom of knowing they’re forgiven, by God at least, and for some by their victims or victims’ families. 

Forgiveness, when it comes to crimes and other significant harms, is difficult because many people believe that forgiveness means somehow absolving the offender of responsibility for the harm he caused. Others claim that forgiveness is for the one harmed, to free him or her from the prison of anger and bitterness. I agree that forgiveness is hard, sometimes REALLY hard. I also agree that the one offering forgiveness often benefits from the freedom of anger and bitterness. But I see forgiveness primarily as a gift to the offender, and as such an act of grace. 

Two theologians, Nigel Biggar and Miroslav Volf, wrote about the complex issue of forgiveness. Both saw forgiveness in two parts, and I couldn’t agree more. Volf called the first part of forgiveness a gift extended, and the second part he called a gift received. Biggar called the first part compassion and the second part absolution. I like the gift metaphor more, but both theologians recognize that the first step of forgiveness involves compassion for the offender. It requires recognizing his brokenness and wishing him no harm. The second part, for both theologians, requires repentance from the offender. 

Biggar argues that absolving the offender requires the offender to confess and repent of his wrong. It also may involve restitution or even retribution at times. But the end goal, for both theologians, is that forgiveness leads to reconciliation. Reconciliation is perhaps the hardest part of forgiveness, because it requires vulnerability. It requires being willing to trust again, even if just a tiny bit at a time. Reconciliation also may require “forgetting” a harm, or at least remembering it in redemptive ways in the present. 

Forgiveness, whether the first part of compassion/gift or the second part of absolution/acceptance, is difficult. It is a process of transformation, both for the forgiver and the forgiven. As many of the men in my Restorative Justice club noted, even accepting forgiveness is hard. For some, it was hard because they were not yet ready to accept full responsibility in the past. For others, it is hard because they feel their crime is unforgivable. I heard no one express a flippant desire to accept forgiveness and forget their own harms. The forgiver may “forget” or remember redemptively, but the harmer rarely does. 

If forgiveness is a gift, and I believe it is, then it isn’t something deserved or earned. It is something offered in grace and compassion to someone who does not deserve it. And when it is received in humility by the one who does not deserve it, the ground is fertile for reconciliation. Tragically, some harms cannot be undone. But it is also tragic for relationships to remain broken and for bitterness to stay deeply rooted. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever be offered forgiveness by those I’ve harmed, but I hope so. And because of that hope, although I don’t deserve forgiveness, I try to live a life worthy of it. Forgiveness is a gift I will never take lightly.

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Author: hopeontheinside.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.

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The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry.