Sunday, February 13, 2011


It is natural to want to strike back when attacked and hurt, whether by violent words or by violent actions. But christianity has always taught the importance for forgiveness and many non-christians are finding it an important part of their lives as they struggle to recover from the effects of deep hurts.

Forgiveness was one of the notable aspects of Jesus' teaching. The commands in the Jewish scriptures ("an eye for an eye") were aimed at limiting retribution to what was just, but Jesus set a higher standard - if we want God to forgive us for wrongs we have done, he taught we need to forgive others who have wronged us. It's a simple teaching, but one that is not always easy to follow. To our shame, many christians seem to put it to one side.

Forgiveness is not forgetting the action that hurt us, nor is it condoning it. Forgiveness is built on truth, recognition that something hurtful did indeed occur. After the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up "to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation." They recognised that reconciliation and forgiveness were necessary, but needed to be based on truth.

In the past decade, the Forgiveness Project was begun in the UK, "to help build a future free of conflict and violence by healing the wounds of the past." It is not affiliated with any religion, but approaches forgiveness from a viewpoint of what works and what helps.

One of the main features of the site is the many stories of people who have experienced terrible hurts and deep grief but learnt to forgive - told with the aim of encouraging us all to explore the nature of forgiveness and alternatives to revenge.This video is a good introduction to the Forgiveness Project stories.

Forgiveness "works", it can free people from anger and other negative emotions and attitudes. As a christian, I have found that God's forgiveness offered to me motivates me to want to have a forgiving attitude to others.

Philosopher Charles Griswold concluded a recent discussion of forgiveness from a secular viewpoint with these words: "While religious and secular perspectives on forgiveness are not necessarily consistent with each other, however, they agree in their attempt to address the painful fact of the pervasiveness of moral wrong in human life. They also agree on this: few of us are altogether innocent of the need for forgiveness."

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