Following a wrong against us a crucial part of the recovery is the attempt to make sense of what has happened, to provide an explanation for the vulnerability and pain we’ve experienced. We see ourselves with all our complexities, our history, the interwoven moments of our life and within that fabric we see the damage done. We look for an explanation and simple ones are easy to find. Among them is to see the one who we believe has wronged us in one dimensional, cartoonish, form. We are a tapestry full of subtleties but the person who has hurt us is a piece of cardboard, simply and easily defined by what they did to us. The story we seek to construct to help us move through our experience of hurt and pain is made so much easier if the good guys are completely good and the bad guys completely evil, especially if we are the good guy. Yet this won’t suffice when it comes to forgiveness.
The person we believe hurt us is, like us, multidimensional, a person with complexities, a story, a history before they encountered us and a lived experience after us. Part of the process of forgiveness, and it is often a process more than a moment, is to become aware of the larger story, the context of the person who has harmed us. Doing us forces us to humanize them, to see them as more than a simple villian. To forgive a stereotype we have created can sometimes be no forgiveness at all and even a kind of revenge. Our pride, wounded, strikes back at the evil done by making the one who harmed us something less than a person and our words of forgiveness an act of reasserting power over them and keeping them in a place of perpetual obligation to us. Forgiveness is much deeper and harder than this.
Forgiveness, in its most authentic sense, requires us, over time, to rediscover and uphold the image of God which is present even in the most evil of people. This is not about excusing actions but rather about seeing the larger context, the humanity of the person who has wronged us and and hoping, if at all possible, that our refusal to destroy in return even if it is warranted will somehow, some way, help restore the person whose evil against us is a symptom of our shared human frailty, illness, and mortality. This is difficult and the greater the amount of harm that is done to does only increases the difficulty. Yet it is even in this great difficulty that we ourselves are restored and healed. It is in this great struggle that we discover the depths of the love and grace of God for us and the whole world even as we ourselves become partakers of it as well.