From the Revd Caroline Brownlie
Sir, - Your article on forgiveness (Comment, 21 February) added
much to the current debate, but something that I have not found
mentioned in the search for a definition was put forward in David
Jacobsen's little book of 1976, Clarity in Prayer: the
idea that forgiveness includes first the will, and then the grace,
not to hold the injury against the person.
Most, if not all, of us have faced this choice, which
encompasses perhaps the most difficult emotional act for a person.
We know it when we need the forgiveness of "the other", and when we
are confronted with injury inflicted upon us.
In both situations where this has been possible, I would suggest
that we have gone through a process: of hoping for, believing in,
and then knowing, if not feeling, God's grace in receiving from the
one whom we have injured the experience that something is no longer
held against us; and experiencing towards the one who injured us
not necessarily the cessation of hurt, anger, and betrayal, but the
cessation of the need to retaliate.
In neither case are we asked to gloss over the truth, which
challenges us, when we face our hurt of others, to true humility
(realism), and truly to experience the grace of its no longer being
held against us; and, conversely, to experience the freedom of the
injury truly faced and truly relinquished, so that we can hope that
hurt, anger, or betrayal have a chance to be healed within us.
It is precisely because of the gravity of each circumstance and
its effects on individuals that only the resource of divine
intervention suffices. The process varies infinitely in its
timescale, as the situations and people vary, and the possibility
of a renewal of relationship; but I hope that the above adds to the
factors that can be considered.
9 Mount Pleasant
Cambridge CB3 0BL
From Paul Priest
Sir, - The word "forgiveness" is hard to define. Mark Vernon's
essay, for all its insight, does not try. But what if we say that
it is not the action that is forgiven, but the person? "Seventy
times seven" is about people who repeat the same offence over and
over and always say sorry, till you wonder whether they can mean
it. The challenge is to believe that they do: that, in spite of all
evidence, there is in them a true desire, however faint, however
hidden even from them, to be friends. The Quakers call it "that of
God in everyone". Forgiveness is to believe in that, and so offer
The Prodigal's father did forgive him: welcomed him back into
the family, and declared that he was worthy to be called a son,
even if he himself denied it.
PAUL PRIEST (Reader)
1 Quaker House, St Mark's Street
Leeds LS2 9EQ