Whenever I see it, it makes me smile.
Most Christians would agree that It’s all about Easter, if not exactly eggs and bunnies, and that Easter is pretty much all about forgiveness.
Our Western culture often seems far more focused on revenge than forgiveness. Our films and TV is full of examples of getting even and journeys of self-righteous vengeance. In sports people talk about settling scores and payback against the opposition. The debate on prisons and reform tends to focus on punishment, rather than rehabilitation. I know it’s hardly science, but type revenge into Google and you get 276 million hits, forgiveness gives 56 million.
This shouldn’t be a surprise – revenge is part of our basic human nature, indeed it’s one of our strongest emotions. In primitive tribal societies,without any other systems of justice, revenge served as both a way for wronged individuals to achieve emotional satisfaction, and also served as a visible public deterrent to others.
But in our modern complex societies, with rule of law, our desires for personal revenge usually result in far from positive consequences – perpetuating cycles of violence, entrenching division and splitting families. After all, it’s not as if those being ‘punished’ always resign themselves to a rap on the knuckles and changing their ways – frequently the response is further anger, resentment, and a desire to retaliate against the person doing the ‘punishing’.
As neighbours fall out, relationships break up and community relations break down, escalation can easily occur – in some cases leading to frosty avoidance or internet slanging matches, in other cases slashed tires or physical violence. It’s estimated that around 20% of the murders in the Western World are motivated by revenge !
Obviously societies need to have justice, and sometimes actions need to have consequences – but forgiveness is really about something else.
It’s the emotional process of letting go of personal feelings of injustice and resentment. It’s what we do in our own heads and hearts.
Research by Dr R Enright and others indicates that people who are more inclined to forgive others are typically happier and healthier, experiencing less stress, less depression and less disease. Forgiving those who we perceive have wronged us also means we’re less likely to carry unresolved resentment and anger into new relationships and situations.
It’s not so much what we’re granting the other person, but what we’re granting to ourselves that matters. Freedom to move on – letting go of hurt, loss and bitterness. Ultimately forgiveness is a choice.
Sometimes it might seem impossible.
But we can learn forgiveness, the best teachers being those who have themselves been able to forgive some terrible wrong done to them, such as with Abiola Inakoju or Linda Beihl, or in Sierra Leone, Nickel Mines USA or South Africa and many other places around the world. Many more inspiring and remarkable stories can be found on the website The Forgiveness Project.
The two videos below might also provide food for thought – with the journalist and author Naseem Rakha on the left, or the Christian writer and minster Rob Bell on the right. Many more videos about forgiveness can be found on the Fetzer Institute Youtube Channel.
Photo by prakny.przewodnik via Flickr