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Forgiveness Can't Be Forced

Only I can forgive, nobody can do that for me or on my behalf.  At the same time, I am able to forgive the other without the other necessarily being actively involved.  Forgiveness can give the victim the freedom not to be held captive by the powers of the past anymore.  However, the readiness to forgive cannot be forced.

Forgiveness is God's gift.  It springs from the humility of faith.  In the humility of faith, Joseph was able to forgive his brothers, and not because he was superior or more enlightened than them.  He recognised that all human beings are fallible in front of their creator.  Yet, forgiveness never comes easily.  To forgive is not an easy act. Furthermore, it should never be offered for the sake of appeasement or to please somebody — and above all, it cannot be commanded by the perpetrator. This would imply a cheap theology of forgiveness.

All this makes forgiveness not only an act of faith, but also a complex "craft" — a lifelong learning process that is more than just retrogressive absolution of guilt. It contains also the forward-looking hope to re-constitute community.

Reconcilialion thus aims at this forward-looking goal. In contrast to forgiveness, reconciliation is always a process that involves all parties of conflict. The Mennonite J.P. Lederach, a leading mediator in international conflicts, characterises reconciliation primarily by relationship and encounter:

"Reconciliation can be ... understood as both a focus and a locus. As a perspective, it is built on and oriented toward the relational aspects of a conflict. As a social phenomenon, reconciliation represents a space, a place or location of encounter where parties to a conflict meet. Reconciliation must be proactive in seeking to create an encounter where people can focus on their relationship and share their perceptions, feelings, and experiences with one another, with the goal of creating new perceptions and a new shared experience."

Reconciliation is a process and place for relationship. If we understand reconciliation in such a way, then it might create the space in which one can open oneself to the other without losing one's identity, in which one can listen to the story of the other, in which the painful past can be brought up and above all in which the search for a common future can begin.

- Oliver Schuegraf, "Telling God's stories again and again--reflection on remembrance and reconciliation," Modern Believing, July 2006, p. 37.

Source for Lederach quote:
- John P. Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, 5th edition (Washington: USIP, 2002), p. 30.

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