FORGIVENESS is an essential task, but a costly journey, without which harm continues to erode the well-being of both the unforgiving and the unforgiven. This small book from the former Bishop of Hereford Anthony Priddis seeks to map that journey.
Grasping the full nature of forgiveness is fundamental. The most helpful pithy definition reached for here is: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” A fuller consideration, which Priddis provides, looks at forgiveness in relation to trust; memory and forgetting; acts of the will, but also powerful feelings; mercy, but also justice; ideas of gift and debt; and to the hard work that is deep listening but also letting go.
This excellent book explores what forgiveness is, and why it is important, and the processes involved in both the offering and also the receiving of forgiveness. It also provides chapters on who can forgive, the nature of God’s forgiveness, and how communities respond to tragedy.
There is a good balance between analysis and illustration throughout. Plenty of familiar and powerful examples are rehearsed, and there is reference to key contributions, such as those of Simon Wiesenthal and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These are supplemented by helpful discussions of recent societal shifts — for example, the deeper appreciation of the ongoing consequences of trauma, and of the distorted thinking of abusers. Discussion of the dynamics of public shaming through social media, and of the lessons being learnt through IICSA, also informs the text.
The real strength of this book lies with its breadth of pastoral perspective. This is well illustrated by the short chapter on the ways in which communities, such as Hungerford, respond to an outrage and have subsequently reached out to other communities in parallel situations. In contrast, the discussion of the complexities involved in whether nations can forgive nations is less satisfactory, as is the leaving of substantial discussion of scriptural texts to the final chapter. This generates an unfortunate sense of disconnect between the ideals of the New Testament and the real-life dynamics of forgiveness discussed so effectively earlier in the book.
A much needed and helpful resource, this book is also a testament to the importance of pastoral ministry in our world today.
The Revd Duncan Dormor is the General Secretary of the Anglican mission agency USPG.
Forgiveness: A practical and pastoral companion
Canterbury Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30