During the recent Stalcup Lecture at Broadway Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri, Dr. Joretta Marshall walked us through the forest of forgiveness. There were tall trees there as well as undergrowth. For Christians and other people of faith the issue of forgiveness is generally a central one; an understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness leads to the imperative for us to forgive others. It is embedded in the Lord’s Prayer, this mutuality of forgiveness.
But just because we know how important forgiveness is that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Forgiveness is hard business, as any of us know who have tried to practice it. The deeper the hurt the longer and more complex the process of forgiveness becomes. And as Joretta brought to our minds, forgiveness is not so much a thing as a process into which one enters. The willingness, the desire to enter that process is the thing.
Thornier aspects surface when one feels the tension between forgiveness and reconciliation. Just because one is able to internally forgive that does not necessarily mean that reconciliation with the other party has occurred. Indeed, they are not often available or willing to enter into a process of reconciliation.
And what about the relationship between justice and forgiveness? If one forgives does that mean that the need for justice making disappears? Is it possible to forgive too soon, prematurely, before justice has been sought and even engaged? And what if no agreement as to wrongs is possible? Can two parties agree to disagree on the details of history and still be willing to release, forgive and start over?
When we forgive others we release ourselves from a muddy path of resentment that weighs down the soul. When we are forgiven we are released from the guilt or shame that bleeds the soul. And in the best case scenario forgiveness repairs the breaches in the wall, makes a new future possible, and is the source of liberation, renewal and hope.