When is it our place to forgive? Are we being presumptuous when we forgive someone who hasn’t hurt us directly, but who hurt someone close to us? Veronica Zundel poses some important questions to ponder. Do we have the right to forgive?
Don’t laugh, but I find it much easier to forgive people once they’re dead. Yes, I know they can no longer apologize, but they key thing is, neither can they repeat the behaviour that caused me such hurt. The thing is, I find it hard to forgive someone who I know perfectly well is going to do it again, and again, because that’s what they do. They are a person who carps, or undermines, or pushes boundaries continually. And deep down, I feel they ought to be punished. Or at least to be told the truth of what they’re doing – only being a coward, I’m not going to be the one who tells them. Besides, my feelings of being hard done by seem so unconvincing once I put them into words. Is that really worth making such a fuss about?
And another thing: how do I forgive someone who has not offended me directly, but has hurt someone close to me? Is it my place to forgive Hitler, or his subordinates, for what they did to my close family – forcing my parents to flee their home, and then killing my grandmother, great-aunt and great-uncle in a concentration camp? Clearly, it has affected my own history and my own emotions, but isn’t it for those who suffered to forgive? Or on a lesser level, can I forgive the ‘demon headmaster’ at my son’s school (who was also known as ‘Hitler’ to the pupils) for what he did to children with special needs? After all, it wasn’t done to me, and my son got off relatively lightly. The same applies to successive governments whose policies had and have horrendous effects on the poor and vulnerable – is it my place to forgive, when I wasn’t one of those affected?
Most significantly right now, can I forgive my beloved church, the mainstay of my life for 24 years, for closing down? Or its parent body for closing five years earlier, which led directly to the dwindling of the church? The fact is, I’m just not very good at forgiving – in fact I’m much better at finding excuses why I shouldn’t. I’ve always had a keen sense of justice, and forgiving just doesn’t seem fair.
I know that God’s forgiveness of me is supposed to be the basis for my forgiving others. But I became a Christian at 16, before I’d had the chance to do much dramatic sinning, so sometimes I find it hard to see myself as ever having been a great sinner. Others who can see me more clearly may disagree… The saving grace is, the older I get, the more I see my own faults; and the more I realize that God, in fact, forgives me umpteen failures and deliberate choices day by day.
Ultimately, I know my difficulty with forgiveness causes more harm to me than to the people against whom I bear a grudge – who probably don’t even know the effect they had on me. And my inability to forgive easily makes me more aware how much I rely on the Spirit of God to help me – which is why a couple of years ago my ‘prayer for the year’ was that God would teach me how to forgive. All learning is a process, so maybe I can start with those who’ve left us, and gradually progress to forgiving those who are still alive – even if I know they are almost certain to do it again. One day I might even manage seventy times seven….
Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer for the Christian market, currently studying for an MA in Writing Poetry, and undergoing cancer treatment. She lives in North London with her husband, adult son and a large, fluffy cat inclined to sudden biting.