“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” said Gandhi. The tally sheet of rights and wrongs is never balanced. When we are busily making each other blind, or focussed on the tally sheets in our life, we lose sight of what’s most important: seeing beauty around us, love in our life, hunger in children, and scars on others’ hearts. there’s a better wayA
Holding onto bitterness about an injury–supposed or real–chews away a part of us. It exerts control over us and limits who we are, who we become, how we respond to life, and what we think about. It limits our capacity for love, joy, creativity and freedom. Let go of it, and we’re able to see a better tomorrow. There’s a better way.
Yes, consequences need to follow actions. But those consequences not rooted in revenge tend to be the wisest and carry the greatest good. Giving up the right for revenge ends the injury’s control of us. Once we’re free of its control, we can make wiser decisions, reconnect with the goodness of life, and work toward understanding, reconciliation, or justice.
Sometimes I’m able to forgive, and sometimes I just can’t. Sometimes I’m not the one who needs to do the forgiving. When I can’t forgive, or am not in a position to forgive, I give the matter of forgiveness to God. Some types of forgiveness belongs only to God, anyway.
When I forgive or ask God to deal with the matter of forgiveness, I feel as though I have just reduced a boulder that was blocking my path down to the size of a little pebble on the ground in front of me. I can look at the pebble, know it’s there, step over it and move on.
Forgiveness is not a rule we have to follow. When we can’t forgive, we can trust God, instead, to do that which is right in the matter of forgiveness. This doesn’t make us bad Christians. New Testament Scholar Frederick W. Keene writes that when Jesus says from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Jesus doesn’t say that he has forgiven his killers. Rather, he is asking God to forgive them.*
When we forgive or give the task of forgiveness to God, we free our soul, lighten our spirit, and open the door to new or renewed relationships. Forgiveness lets us recognize the humanity, strengths and limitations of the Other, and acknowledges that we, too, have limitations and need forgiveness on occasion. Forgiveness gives up the right to revenge. It opens the door to a state of peace inside.
True forgiving doesn’t require that we forget what happened. Forgetting blocks productive change and can even be dangerous. Remembering what has happened can help us plan for the future.
Some people give up chocolate or alcohol for Lent, some take a daily walk or meditate. If everyone in the world–both Christian and non-Christian–gave up the desire for revenge for 40 days, maybe we’d have a chance for peace. Barring that, let’s each of us give up for 40 days, any grudges or bitterness we carry. Let them go. Reduce them to pebbles, take a breath of fresh air, and walk away from them. I think we’ll feel radically better if we do.
*Structures of Forgiveness in the New Testament,” in Violence against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook, Carol J. Adams and Marie M. Fortune, editors: Continuum/New York; p. 128.