Forgiveness poses great challenge. The thought of it when one is hurt by another oftentimes sounds impossible and unrealistic. However, it is a possible act. Indian sage Maha’atma Gandhi said “only the strong forgive”.
A radical approach to praying for the grace to forgive everyone, my spouse, my family, my friends and all who come by my way in life. I was reflecting on it when the following prayer line welled up from inside of me: “Forgive me unconditionally, just as I forgive”.
To pray this way is to pray for something radical, something that shatters all our assumptions and expectations about the basic patterns of ordinary social life. In our world, you don’t get anything for nothing. If you want something, you must pay for it; you must make some kind of exchange.
But forgiveness overturns the entire economy of exchange; in forgiveness; I give you something for nothing, without requiring payment or exchange, without demanding anything in return. In the economy of exchange, you are bound to me by various contracts and conditions but in the economy of forgiveness, you are set free from all bondage to me, unconditionally liberated from all indebtedness to me.
Forgiveness is thus something shocking, something astonishing and unexpected. It lies outside the basic patterns and assumptions that underpin our entire culture. It is wholly undetermined and contingent. It is an event that can never be anticipated in advance. It is an irruption of the ordinary. Until we have been shocked and astonished, yes, frightened! By the power of forgiveness, we have not yet even begun to understand what is involved here.
Believe me, forgiveness is shocking because it is a miracle. In and of myself, I lack the capacity to forgive but as I receive the forgiving love of God in Jesus, I am empowered by the Spirit to become an agent of that same forgiveness. Because I have been forgiven, I can and must forgive.
When I forgive a person who has wronged me, that person is truly forgiven – she is liberated from the chains of the past and set free to participate in the life of God’s coming kingdom. So too, when this person forgives me, I am truly forgiven! I am liberated from the past and welcomed into the life of the kingdom. Through the power of the Spirit, human society in all its forms can thus begin to glimpse and to participate in the life of the kingdom through this astounding miracle of reciprocal forgiveness.
To forgive, therefore, is not only a personal act; it is also a social and political act, an act pregnant with the promise of a new future for our world. In international relations and in domestic penal policy, it overturns the politics of vengeance.