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Further considerations regarding forgiveness

14 March 2014


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 friendship.

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.

1 Quaker House, St Mark's Street
Leeds LS2 9EQ

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