Soul Search
Restless Round
Personal Development
Albert Einstein
Karl Marx
Nome Chomsky




10 Stepping Stones to Spiritual, Physical and Emotional Health
FORGIVENESS : Definition
Heroes of Forgiveness
The Sin of Forgiveness?
All Brain, No Mind
Why Forgive


New behaviors needed to create self-forgiveness

See the value of giving up, not some, but all of your judgments.



Paschal Baute, 1993-1997

I do not recall forgiveness being mentioned in graduate school, either in psychology or in marriage and family therapy. But soon afterwards I began to discover while working with many persons and couples, that anger, hurt, resentment and forgiveness were key issues. What I have been discovering with my corporate clients, is that, no matter how much leadership ro management training they have had, the key competency that 99% still lack is conflict resolution and the ability to deal effectively with anger. Furthermore, without those skills, productivity gets sabotaged. So I have been developing materials and teaching courses in these matters.

Very few people know how to apologize, while fewer still know how to accept an apology. Since we are human and make mistakes, an important skill is knowing how to apologize. Four rules are recommended: 1) as soon as possible. The longer you wait the harder it is because the more you can imagine ways your apology might be turned against you. 2) Be specific about the behavior you are apologizing for, not like a Washington politician: "If I did anything wrong..." Rather "When you...when I...I did not think... take time... etc. describing the specific behavior; 3) Tell your feelings about the event and your feelings now. "I am embarrassed to think about how thoughtless that was..." and 4) Tell how that is not like your usual or typical behavior, so you end by affirming yourself. Secondly, when accepting an apology: Do not say: I am glad you finally see your mistake, or It’s about time, or I am still hurting... and other shoot-from-the-hip statements that aggravate the tension. So, if you can honestly do so, either simply "okay, let’s get on with our work (life, relationship, whatever), or better, "I am sorry for my part also."

A good definition of forgiveness, by psychologist Robert Enright is "giving up the resentment to which you are entitled, and offering to the persons who hurt you friendlier attitudes to which they are not entitled." Those who refuse to forgive carry the "ghost" of the hurtful person and give away their own power to this memory. Without doubt, those with whom one chooses to remain angry will continue to control one, even when and particularly when one denies this is so. Those who have not resolved conflicts with family members will carry that garbage into their current relationships even though they may be blind to the fact. I have seen it repeatedly. Whatever is repressed is bound to be repeated. Resentment limits one’s emotional, physical and spiritual development. I was a consultant to several therapeutic communities in the federal prison system. Those who most filled with resentment were the most stuck and the least able to change. It was as if they looked out at the world through piss-colored glasses. They were ready to be "pissed" even sought for occasions, because that fault-finding allowed them to refuse to look at their own attitudes and continue rationalizing any and all anti-social behavior. Many ordinary people because they do not possess good conflict resolution skills have a tendency to sulk, that is, look for and collect small "neglects" and presumed injustices. Behind such attitudes are seven myths:

1) forgiving is the same as forgetting. 3) forgiving is the same as excusing; 3) forgiving is the same as reconciling, 4) forgiving makes you weak; 5) forgiving is an act or a decision; 5) forgiving makes you more vulnerable to the same or another person, and 7) forgiving depends upon the instigator acknowledging the wrongful behavior. All of these are common misconceptions, and none of them are true.

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. One will never forget some things, but this does not mean you need to dwell on it. Forgiving is not the same as excusing, because you are not excusing the behavior or pretending that it did not hurt. Forgiving does not in fact require reconciling, although that may be a desirable outcome. Forgiving does not make you weak because it requires personal courage and actually makes you stronger and a better person. Forgiving is not an act--it is a process, and some forgiving may take a long time. If the hurt is from a family member or a personal betrayal, forgiving may need prayer and a lot of it. The last myth or misconeption is the greatest impasse. Most feel that they cannot forgive until the other has made some move to recognize the harm done. This is not true. They may not recognize or admit the harm, so this admission is not essential for healing. Forgiving is 100% the responsibility of the injured party because it is only your own behavior that you can control. The most important truth here is that forgiving is for your own sake, even if the other does not ask for forgiveness or admit any wrong. It is for your health, your wellness and future openness to life.

People who nurture revenge are liable to increased heart rate and blood pressure. A study at Harvard School of Public Health found that men who scored highest on an anger scale were three times more likely to develop heart disease over a seven year period than low scorers. These negative outcomes from held anger have been repeated a number of times. It is plausible that those who forgave were less depressed and anxious, slept better, and were free from obsessive thoughts and also from revenge fantasies.

Ken Keyes noted that we create the world in which we live: "The world tends to be your mirror. A peaceful person lives in a peaceful world. An angry person creates an angry world. ..An unfriendly persons should not be surprised when he/she meets only people who sooner or late respond in an unfriendly way." quoted in Love, Not Fear.

About eight years ago I developed a handout listing steps necessary for forgiveness, and added one more in 1994. Here they are:

  • Accept that the present situation is not a happy one for you, and that if there is to be any change, you alone must make it first. Further, that you have no direct control over the other's thinking, feeling or behavior.

  • Recognize that there are great differences in perceptions, that we are blind to how we impact others, and that we all tend to idealize ourselves.

  • Remember that you are an imperfect human being: blind to yourself & not knowing it. You are probably more self-centered than you can ever see yourself. We all are. You had some part in whatever happened. Your halo was probably off-kilter some way. The easiest thing in the world is to blame.

  • Some expression of your anger or hurt to someone may be either useful or necessary for the process to get started well. The listener does not need to be the offending person but should be one who can truly empathize yet be objective, not just agree with you, but also challenge you to reframe it!

  • Realize that forgiveness is for YOUR sake, that holding on to resentments is more hurtful to you than anyone else. It keeps you from living fully in the present--the only moment in which we can live peacefully and free of the past negatives.

  • Understand that holding a grudge can give you a secret power and sense of superiority over others. Dwelling or sucking on hurt or pain can make one feel quite "special." Many persons actually prefer holding on to resentments because of the hidden "fringe benefits" or payoffs. Examine what your possible pay-offs may be: the victim or martyr role offers diverse benefits. List some!

  • Examine whether the good points of the other person outweigh their faults even though you feel you were treated badly. Reflect upon this: "Will you feel better or become a better person by trying to improve the relationship?"

  • Comprehend that forgiving is NOT forgetting or condoning. "Because I can't forget I can't forgive" is an alibi & not true, that forgiving is simply a decision not to dwell or suck on the hurt. The key is to keep refusing to ruminate. This is a decision that may need to be made repeatedly, for as often as necessary, "seventy times seven"..."Forgive us as we forgive..."

  • Be aware that forgiveness is, believe it or not, 100% your responsibility, and that you DO NOT really need the other person to admit that they were wrong. Waiting until they admit wrong keeps YOU stuck in the past. Many crucify themselves between two thieves of regret (or resentment) and guilt, then believe that others or the "world" has done it to them.

  • Be willing to learn whatever is helpful or necessary to leave the past to the past. There are some psychological techniques...Be willing to discover what your own hidden compulsion is. Address your own interpersonal impact, with some serious self-study.

  • For the person of some Christian belief, deep, profound hurts from a close family member may take regular, sustained prayer even for a long period of time, in order to forgive. Our wounded ego or hurt pride may not yield except through divine grace, and bringing my will into God's loving kindness. Some hurts are so deep that they require patient prayer and time to heal.

  • For the Buddhist, the remedy is the regular practice of meditation, mindfulness, letting go of attachments, the discerning that suffering is an inevitable part of human life, and the attainment of compassion for all creatures. Attachment to one's own views is seen as the source of all pain.

  • If you have the courage, seeking feedback from the other person can be an occasion for considerable increase in self-awareness, some insight and possible reconciliation. Begin by saying: "I'm sorry for my part..."

  • Regardless of whether the other person responds or changes, the final step is to keep on willing love and goodness to them, wishing the best for them.

Paschal’s other articles (one or two page handouts) related to this subject are: Guide for Dealing with Your Own Anger; Ready Guide for Dealing with Angry People; Passive-Aggressive Anger; Caring Confrontation; You Don’t Fight Fair! How to Fight Fair (DISC Temperament differences) Four Basic Hidden Patterns in Stress/conflict; Embracing Criticism; Helpful Feedback: criteria for giving; Seven Steps for Conflict Resolution; How Men and Women Drive Each Other crazy. Ask for list of 180 handouts developed for clients, counselors and trainers in human relations. He has also developed two training modules: Ten Cardinal Rules for Dealing with Angry Clients, Citizens, and Teammates, and Conflict Resolution Skills for teams. These are sold with permission to copy and use in your own setting.

Institute for Human Responsiveness, Inc. 6200 Winchester Road, Lexington, KY 40509-9520, tel 606-293-5302, Email

A further reference on forgiveness is Dr. Robert Enright, PO box 6153. Madison WI 53716-0153 608-222-0241. Email

source :

10 Stepping Stones to Spiritual, Physical and Emotional Health


by Gerald Jampolsky, M.D. and Diane V. Cirincione, Ph.D.

In business as well as in our personal lives nothing causes more stress and diminished output than relationship problems. It is our fault finding and condemning others as well as ourselves that not only causes us stress but also has the potential of being injurious to our health. The grievances we hold on to someone we feel has wronged us or the grievances that we carry with us from old and new personal relationships can play an significant role in many of the illnesses that we seek medical attention for.

If you saw an advertisement about a new drug that guaranteed to free everyone from anger, grievances, guilt and shame, as well as many of the headaches, backaches, insomnia and other ailments that are frequently caused by our angry emotions and unforgiving thoughts, and if you were told that this remedy had no side effects, that it was impossible to overdose on it, and that it was free, wouldn’t you rush out to buy that drug?

The simple decision to forgive will do that and so much more. Through conscious forgiveness, you will find yourself feeling peaceful, happy, fully alive and with a zest for living that is beyond your imagination. The fact is that holding on to grievances and unforgiving thoughts is like putting toxins into the mind. We would never knowingly ingest poison, yet we continue to keep angry, toxic thoughts in our minds. Our emotions affect our immune system and every organ in the body. Holding on to "attack thoughts" and grudges is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die!

The decision not to forgive is actually a decision to continue suffering. Why then do so many of us find it so difficult to forgive? We believe it is because we do not understand the function and benefits of such a practice. It is essential to realize that to forgive someone is not to condone or approve of a horrendous act. It does not mean that the individual is not responsible for what he or she has done. Forgiveness simply means that we have made the decision to heal our own minds by letting go of the hurtful past, a past that our anger and judgments cannot change.

Zalinda Carusa Ziegler is an example of how toxic thoughts affect the body. Fourteen years ago her nineteen-year-old son was murdered by a casual acquaintance who was convicted of the murder and sentenced to prison. Whenever he was up for parole, Zalinda, with her family and friends, would testify that this man should never be released from prison. She believed that he had committed an unforgivable act and should remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Through the years, Zalinda developed an increasing number of medical problems. Her hair began falling out; her gall bladder acted up; she had gastrointestinal problems; and she frequently felt depressed and agitated. Zalinda realized that revenge had become her primary purpose in life and that stoking the fire of what she considered her justified anger preoccupied most of her thoughts.
It was about this time that she read one of our books, Love is Letting Go of Fear, and decided that rather than anger and revenge, she wanted peace of mind. She began visiting this murderer in prison, and initially shared only her anger and lack of forgiveness with him. After several months, she began to notice a few positive characteristics about this man.

As time went on, she was able to forgive him and even became instrumental in his parole from prison. The day he was released, she was there to drive him away from the prison. Simultaneously, all of her medical problems disappeared. Zalinda continues to work with prisoners, sharing her powerful story of forgiveness and healing.

Several years ago we met a physician who told us how he and his brother had had such a terrible disagreement that they did not speak to each other for over seven years. This physician finally recognized that his angry, unforgiving thoughts toward his brother were simply boomeranging back onto him. He decided that he was not going to hang on to the hurtful past, called his brother, and invited him to have breakfast the next morning. He did not know how his brother would react and there was a long silence before his brother agreed. They shared a two–hour breakfast and all the hostility of the past dissolved and they parted friends. Three days later his brother was killed in an automobile accident.

Forgiveness is the bridge to love, peace, happiness and well being. It allows us to say good-bye to guilt, blame and shame. It purifies the heart and soul and puts us in touch with all that is sacred. Through forgiveness, we connect with that which is greater than ourself and become the person God intended us to be.

The key to forgiveness is the willingness to make the effort. How long it takes depends on your belief system. If you think it can’t be done, it won’t happen. If you believe it will take years, that will be your experience. But if you are willing to believe that it can be done in an instant, that is all it will take.

The Stepping Stones to Forgiveness

  1. Be open to the possibility of changing your beliefs about forgiveness. Recognize that forgiveness is an act of strength, not weakness.
  2. Be willing to let go of being a victim. Choose to believe that holding on to grievances and unforgiving thoughts is choosing to suffer. Find no value in self-pity.
  3. Remind yourself that your anger and judgments can’t change the past or punish someone else, but they can hurt you. The events of the past cannot hurt you now, but your thoughts about the past can cause you immense distress and pain. Recognize that any emotional pain you feel this moment is caused only by your own thoughts.
  4. See the value of giving up, not some, but all of your judgments. It is no coincidence that the happiest people are those who choose not to judge and know the value of forgiveness.
  5. Recognize that holding on to anger will not bring you what your truly want. Ask yourself this question, "Does holding on to my justified anger really bring me peace of mind?" Anger and peace; judgment and happiness do not occur at the same time.
  6. See that there is no value in punishing yourself. Once you truly recognize that your angry, unhappy thoughts about the past are poisoning your life, you will embrace forgiveness and know the meaning of love.
  7. Believe that forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past! Accept your past, forgive your past, and embrace the present and future with hope! There is no law forcing you to remain a victim of the past.
  8. Choose to be happy rather than right. When we stop trying to control others and focus instead on our own thoughts, we give ourselves the gift of freedom and peace.
  9. Believe that you have the power to choose the thoughts you put into your mind. Perhaps the greatest gift we have been given is the power to choose loving thoughts rather than angry ones. Your mind is not a dumpster that will remain unaffected by the trash you put into it. Treat it like a garden and it will blossom.
  10. Be willing to make peace of mind your only goal and believe that forgiveness is the key to happiness. Regardless of the chaos around us, we can know peace if that is our single goal. Choose not to let outside circumstances or people decide whether you will be happy. Anger, judgments and unforgiving thoughts make suffer, and releasing them brings us joy. It truly is that simple!

source :

FORGIVENESS : Definition



Based on Philosophical, Traditional (Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, Confucian, and Buddhist traditions, among others), Psychological and Developmental principles. Gleaned from a large survey of readings, professional dialogue, and stories of forgiveness written by volunteers.

1.    What it is:

It is a response to an injustice (a moral wrong).
It is a turning to the "good" in the face of this wrongdoing.

Merciful restraint from pursuing resentment or revenge.
Generosity or offering good things such as: attention, time, remembrances on holidays.
Moral Love or contributing to the betterment of the other.

It is the foregoing of resentment or revenge when the wrongdoer's actions deserve it and giving the gifts of mercy, generosity and love when the wrongdoer does not deserve them.
As we give the gift of forgiveness we ourselves are healed.

Beyond duty
A freely chosen gift (rather than a grim obligation).
The overcoming of wrongdoing with good.

2. What it is not:

Time passing/ignoring the effects of the wrongdoing.

Nothing that bad happened. It was only this one time. It won't happen again.

The person did this wasn't really their responsibility.

She/he deserves to know they have wronged me.
"Forgiving" with a sense of moral superiority.

Seeking Justice or Compensation
Forgiveness is not a quid pro quo deal--it doesn't demand compensation first.

3. Important Distinction:

Forgiveness:     One person's moral response to another's injustice

Reconciliation:  Two parties coming together in mutual respect


Robert Enright and Gayle Reed
Department of Educational Psychology
University of Wisconsin -Madison 

Forgiveness research has been ongoing at the University of Wisconsin for over thirteen years. The psychiatrist, Richard Fitzgibbons, MD recently said this about our research: "The research on forgiveness by Robert Enright and his colleagues may be as important to the treatment of emotional and mental disorders as the discovery of sulfa drugs and penicillin were to the treatment of infectious diseases."

Our experience and dedication to the teaching of forgiveness as a psychological health intervention have led to the development of a process model of interpersonal forgiving. This model has a series of 20 steps which are organized into four distinct phases. This is our best estimate of the general pathway that people follow when they forgive someone who has unjustly injured them. This process is not a rigid sequence and individuals may experience all or only some of the steps. The following is a brief description of the four phases of forgiveness.

Uncovering Phase

During this phase the individual becomes aware of the emotional pain that has resulted from a deep, unjust injury. Characteristic feelings of anger or even hatred may be present. As these negative emotions are confronted and the injury is honestly understood, individuals may experience considerable emotional distress. Deciding on the appropriate amount of energy to process this pain and still function effectively is an important consideration during this phase. However, as the anger and other negative emotions are brought out into the open healing can begin to occur.

Decision Phase

The individual now realizes that to continue to focus on the injury and the injurer may cause more unnecessary suffering. The individual begins to understand that a change must occur to go ahead in the healing process. The individual may then experience a " heart conversion" or, in other words, a life change in a positive direction. The individual entertains the idea of forgiveness as a healing strategy. The individual, then, commits to forgiving the injurer who has caused him/her such pain. Complete forgiveness is not yet realized but the injured individual has decided to explore forgiveness and to take initial steps in the direction of full forgiveness. An important first step at this point is to forego any thoughts, feelings or intentions of revenge toward the injurer.

Work Phase

Here the forgiving individual begins the active work of forgiving the injurer.   This phase may include new ways of thinking about the injurer. The injured individual may strive to understand the injurer's childhood or put the injurious event in context by understanding the pressures the injurer was under at the time of the offense. This new way of thinking is undertaken not to excuse the injurer of his/her responsibility for the offense, but rather to better understand him/her and to see the injurer as a member of the human community. Often, this new understanding may be accompanied by a willingness to experience empathy and compassion toward the offender. The work phase also includes the heart of forgiveness which is the acceptance of the pain that resulted from the actions of the injurer. This must not be confused with any sense of deserving the pain but rather a bearing of pain that has been unjustly given. As the individual bears the pain, he/she chooses not to pass it on to others,including the injurer. This is often where the challenge of a "quest for the good" is most evident. Indeed, the individual may now become ready to begin to offer goodwill toward the injurer in the form of merciful restraint, generosity, and moral love. This may or may not include a reconciliation. The goodwill may be offered while at the same time taking into consideration current issues of trust and safety in the relationship between the individual and the injurer.

Outcome/Deepening Phase

In this phase the forgiving individual begins to realize that he/she is gaining emotional relief from the process of forgiving his/her injurer. The forgiving individual may find meaning in the suffering that he/she has faced.  The emotional relief and new found meaning may lead to increased compassion for self and others. The individual may discover a new purpose in life and an active concern for his/her community.  Thus, the forgiver discovers the paradox of forgiveness:  as we give to others the gifts of mercy, generosity, and moral love, we ourselves are healed.

source :

Heroes of Forgiveness


You can nominate a "Hero of Forgiveness". The Candidate should have demonstrated profound and genuine forgiveness. The key criteria is the inspirational and motivational force of the act or acts. Will this act empower ordinary people to act in a similar manner? The person does not have to be known worldwide. It is important to hear how stories of forgiveness created a transformation in the individual involved and how this change has continued over time. How has forgiveness affected this person's life on an ongoing basis? The stories are the key to the process of Forgiveness and Spiritual growth. Stories of ordinary people will present an example so that others can be inspired by and emulate.

All nominations must be accompanied by a documented story of forgiveness and transformation. We welcome any and all suggestions regarding the Heroes of Forgiveness award. Please submit by either calling (415) 927-3218, or mailing to 20 Sunnyside Avenue, Suite A 268, Mill Valley, CA 94942.

Mahatma Ghandi

(1869-1948), Indian nationalist leader, who established his country's freedom through a nonviolent revolution and whose teachings inspired nonviolent movements elsewhere, notably in the United States under civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gandhi (1869-1948) biography
Gandhi: Century 2000
Gandhi Text Collection
Gandhi Ashram - his life and times.
M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence

Martin Luther King, Jr.

(1929-1968), American clergyman, one of the principal leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States and a prominent advocate of nonviolent protest. King's challenges to segregation and racial discrimination helped convince many white Americans to support the cause of civil rights in the United States.


The King Center
Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project
The Life and Works of Dr. King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Audio Page
Dr. King, Jr. National Historic Site
Dr. Martin Luther King Timeline
Tribute To Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - bio, pics, and speeches.
Dr.  King Jr.- from the Seattle Times.
Dr. King Jr.- tribute from Life Magazine.

Nelson Mandela

(1918- ), South African activist and statesman, who was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994. He was born in Umtata. In 1944 Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC), a civil rights group promoting the interests of black Africans. In 1962 he was sentenced to five years in prison; in 1964 he was further sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and treason. Mandela soon became a worldwide symbol of resistance to apartheid, South Africa's policy of rigid racial segregation.


Mandela- profile and links.
Long Walk to Freedom - excerpts from his autobiography
General Strike, June 1961 - his statement on behalf of the National Action Council following the stay-at-home in May 1961.
Robben Island - a history of the island, its fauna, and its most famous prisoner
African National Congress - Official ANC home page
Nobel Peace Prize - 1993
FREE NELSON MANDELA   - An Account of the Campaign to Free Nelson Mandela Re. ex South African President Botha "We can him for the past. Send him to jail for his arrogance." - An ANC placard outside the trial of P.W  

Desmond Mpilo Tutu

(1931- ), South African clergyman, civil rights activist, and Nobel laureate. Born in Klerksdorp, in what is now North-West Province, Tutu was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960. He was named dean of Johannesburg in 1975 and bishop of Lesotho in 1977; the following year, he became the first black general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. In 1984 Bishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of "the courage and heroism shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid." Apartheid, South Africa's system of racial separatism, has since been dismantled. 

Desmond Tutu's long crusade
Desmond Mpilo Tutu - Nobel Peace Prize profile of the TRC's Chairman. He won the prize in 1984.
Desmond Tutu interview as bishop Tutu retires as head of his church.
Desmond Tutu World Hello Day letters.
Tutu Preaches Peace
Who IS Archbishop Desmond Tutu
"The Rape of Nanking" Forward by Desmond Tutu.



There is no pill, no lotion, no potion, no energy balancing, no psychic reading, no affirmation that can change what was.
As the light shines into darkness so does love bring warmth and peace to the blackest of blackest places. And you have seen some black places. This is true for all.
Forgiveness of self is the key to accessing the light. The forgiveness of others is noble, yet, forgiveness of self must come first.

One of the greatest gifts anyone could give to themselves would be the gift of self-forgiveness. What has happened in the past has happened. The phrase "no use crying over spilt milk" comes to mind.Many of us spend an entire life time whining and crying over milk that we spilt. Let the past live in the past. The past cannot be removed. You may be able to change your perception of the past but that does not change the event.

When in a black (no light) room and you open a door to another room that is lighted, the light shines into the dark room, the
dark room does not blacken the light room. So it is in us. Love will bring peace to those dark places that you hide in yourself.
Guilt, shame and blame would fall into the category of dark places. Do you have any dark places that need light?

The key to letting light in our rooms is forgiveness of self. To rid ourselves of the guilt, the shame and the blame that we have
allowed to be our truth. We have tortured ourselves long enough. It is time to admit that we made a mistake and now is the
time to let it go, Oh what joy to be free of the choking emotions and the burdensome weights that these emotions carry. I have
witnessed the freeing of many people from their self-made weights by declaring "I forgive myself for........." and then upon
completing what they are forgiving themselves for they say "thank you I am free now" . Try it.

There may be people in your past who have done you great injustices. It is important to forgive them too, but you must forgive
yourself first. It is only possible for you to access love for another (the forgiveness) when you are loving towards yourself (the
forgiveness of self)

Forgiveness of self creates a freeing of your energies. Those demons that have haunted your past are finally put to rest and this
allows a space for new, higher vibration energy to enter. As a result, you are more aware of the love, harmony and peace that
is all around you. Your life becomes more fulfilling, more rewarding, more exciting, more loving. So take the time to let go. Let
go of the past. Forgive yourself. Let the love and light that you so deperately want in your life a chance to manifest itself.
Forgive yourself. You deserve it.


The Sin of Forgiveness?


Gregory Koukl

Is it possible to forgive a wrong done to someone else? Should only those who repent be forgiven? Is forgiveness a selfish act, a way to make ourselves feel better? Greg grapples with these issues and more after a local community forgives a high school student who slew three classmates.

My comments today are in response to an article entitled "The Sin of Forgiveness" written by my colleague, Dennis Prager, published in the Wall Street Journal . Dennis expresses his deep concern about the knee-jerk tendency of many Christians to simply forgive egregious crimes committed against someone else.

Dennis cites a couple of examples. In one case a Christian pastor invited Americans to forgive Timothy McVeigh, found guilty of murdering 168 people in the Oklahoma city bombing. In a second case, Michael Carneil, a freshman at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, gunned down three students attending a prayer group on campus. A few days later the students erected a banner saying, "We forgive you, Michael."

Dennis's article makes three points. First, only the one who is wronged can forgive. These students weren't the ones wronged. The ones murdered were wronged. Therefore, the students are out of place presuming to forgive.

Second, Prager argues that according to Jesus' teaching, only those who repent are to be forgiven. It's wrong to automatically forgive everyone who sins against us when repentance isn't demonstrated.

Third, it's selfish to offer forgiveness merely because of the psychological advantages it gives to oneself. Forgiveness isn't for someone else; it's for us, some hold. It makes us feel better. Dennis argues that this turns out to be selfishness disguised as idealism.

What may surprise you is that I agree with most that's been said by Mr. Prager in this article, though I think some qualifications need to be made, especially to his last point about selfishness. Let's take them one by one.

First, only the one who is wronged can forgive. Dennis writes, "Only those they sinned against have the right to forgive, and those they murdered are dead, and therefore cannot forgive them." He adds, parenthetically, "That is why I believe that humans cannot forgive a murder." Forgiveness is obviously not available on this view because the only person who can forgive a murderer is now dead.

I'm not sure if this last means that even God can't forgive a murderer, therefore a murderer can never be forgiven. If that's what Dennis means, then I think he's mistaken for reasons I'll make clear in a moment.

I think Dennis is right when he says that only the one who is wronged can forgive. Such a statement seems self-evident. What does one forgive except a wrong against himself? If someone punches your neighbor in the nose, you can't forgive that crime; the offense wasn't against you. Therefore, it does seem presumptuous for these students to forgive Michael Carneil on behalf of their classmates who were killed.

Two caveats need to be made, though. First, all moral crimes are first of all crimes against God and only secondarily against man. If you recall Psalm 51, David-- who had committed adultery and killed a man in the process of trying to cover up that adultery-- says to God, "I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only have I sinned."

Even though this was a sin of adultery against a woman and a sin of a murder against a man, David saw the sin principally as a sin against God.

This is especially true of the crime of murder. The central issue of murder-- a violation of the sixth commandment-- is not simply that someone has his life taken from him. That's actually a violation of the eighth commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."

Rather, the central crime of murder is the destruction of one who bears the image of God. As you recall in Genesis 9:6, God said to Noah in instituting capital punishment, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man."

This tells us something very important. It gives us the foundational principle of all human rights and all human dignity, and all other rules, commands, or laws that naturally follow, including the commandment not to murder. Humans are valuable in that they are image bearers. This distinguishes them from all other beings on the planet--or in the universe, for that matter. Human beings bear God's image.

Now, you might not have thought of this, but do you remember when Jesus was asked about paying taxes? He asked whose image was on the coin. What did He say then? "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Right?

That applies to this situation. Human beings bear God's image and therefore belong to Him. So the crime of murder is first a crime against God, and therefore the most important forgiveness must come from Him because He is the principal One wronged.

By the way, God is the One most worthy of obedience and He is the One whose justice and punishment is ultimate and most severe. This is why He's the principle subject for forgiveness and not just humans who were the object of the crime committed.

The second caveat I need to add to this concept-- that only the one who is wronged can forgive-- is that God and the students who were killed aren't the only ones this crime was against.

I think a case can be made that there's an indirect crime done to others. For example, 17-year-old Jessica James was cut down that day. Though she lost her life, her parents also lost a daughter and her classmates lost a dear friend.

This is why condolences go out to family and friends of the deceased. We try to comfort the others in their loss . This is something Dennis even suggested we do, send warm condolences. But such an act is a tacit admission of a crime committed against those other than the deceased.

We comfort someone in their loss because they lost something. Something that was theirs was taken from them. If this is the case, then, it seems also the case-- since they've suffered a loss, too-- that they in some sense are in a position to extend forgiveness. These killings were not only crimes against the murder victims, but also crimes against the family and the community. From that perspective, forgiveness on some level from members of the community seems appropriate.

But that needs to be qualified by the second point Mr. Prager brings up in his article, that, according to Christianity-- the teaching of Jesus-- only those who repent are to be forgiven. He quotes Luke 17:3-4, "Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."

In Matthew 18 a slave was forgiven a large debt. When someone who owed that slave a much smaller amount wanted forgiveness for himself from this slave who'd been forgiven such a great debt, the slave instead threw him into debtors prison. Of course, Jesus had very harsh words for that man. Point being, if we've been forgiven when we've asked for forgiveness, when others ask us for forgiveness we should forgive them in like manner.

Scripturally, this is a little bit of a mixed bag because there are other verses that don't mention the repentance issue and talk only about forgiveness. It does seem, though, that the Luke 17 passage qualifies those other verses such that repentance is an important requirement. It doesn't seem to be that God has commanded us to forgive everybody without qualification, because we see these occasions when the qualification is made. (Incidentally, even God doesn't forgive everyone without qualification.)

There's a third thing Dennis said that I want to respond to. He claimed that it's selfish to give forgiveness in order to gain psychological relief for oneself. He writes, "This, too, is selfishness masquerading as idealism. The argument being, though I do not deserve to be forgiven, and though you may not even be sorry, I forgive you because I want to feel better." I disagree with the letter of Dennis's statement here, though I think I agree with the spirit behind it.

Part of the process of healing from tragedies like this involves releasing anger, bitterness, and resentment connected with the wrong done. Often, when people forgive, that's what they're doing, letting it go.

On the other hand, I don't think that means acting as if no crime has been committed. I think that's Dennis's concern. Moral outrage is appropriate and should be expressed by all parties involved. However, as time goes on people need to let go of these things. Hanging on to injury over time is just another way of continuing to punish the offender--Carneil, in this case. In the long run, though, those that refuse to let crimes against them drop are the ones who are going to suffer.

I don't think this is selfishness masquerading as idealism, but rather a healthy step in the healing process, as long as (and here's my caveat) the egregious nature of the moral crime doesn't receive the short shrift in the process . This, I think, is Dennis's deepest concern, the real spirit of his objection.

(It may be-- and I was thinking about this yesterday-- that statements of personal forgiveness should be done in private so that it doesn't appear that the crime is taken lightly. Save the public statements for condolences to those who lost their children and friends.)

I think the biggest offense that someone like Dennis Prager feels about this is the apparent denial of the harm done and the immediate focus on forgiveness instead of on the appropriate punishment, which would be a function of justice.

In New York a while back a woman almost died when she was badly beaten and raped in Central Park in an act of "wilding." The young men who had committed the crime were caught and jailed. Later they were visited by the Catholic Archbishop and told that God forgave them.

Now, the Archbishop should have mentioned that forgiveness is available from God on God's conditions. But this should have come only after another truth was made clear: As the writer of Hebrews said, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Hell is a real place where moral criminals are punished for their crimes against God and man.

That's what should be told those criminals who did that terrible crime. Only then should they be told about the mercy that God will offer, on His conditions. First the bad news, then the good news.


All Brain, No Mind


Gregory Koukl

Are we just our brain? Greg responds to a Time article that supports this view.

I read an article in Time magazine from July 17 on the mind and the brain. It's entitled "Glimpses of the Mind." Now that title is somewhat tongue in cheek, of course, because the point of the article really is to campaign for the idea that the mind is merely the brain.

What you have going on inside of your head is just chemical reactions that are governed by very physicalistic processes. That which we mistakenly understood to be the mind or the soul is simply the brain, and if it is anything more than the brain, consciousness is a mere property of the brain that kind of rides on top of the physical substance of the brain, much like wetness rides on top of water. It supervenes upon the brain. It is temporarily produced by the brain and dependent upon the brain, but there is nothing akin to what we would call a soul.

Indeed, there is nobody in there. I'll get to that particular point in a minute because the article makes a radical jump into metaphysics when it concludes that one thing we know for sure is that there is no one in there. There is no soul, essentially.

A couple of weeks after this article appeared, I grabbed the page of the letters to the editor and there was quite a response. Just to show you why this is such a significant conversation, I would like to read a short piece by one of the respondents. Some of you might think that this is just one of those philosophical discussions that Koukl likes to get into, like talking about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. I warn you that this is not an inconsequential discussion. The article in Time magazine is not at all without metaphysical and theological significance.

That is witnessed to by the fact that casual readers understood the implications of the article. One reader writes this in the August 7 issue of Time : "You do not mention the profound religious consequences of the scientific investigation of consciousness. If it turns out to be true that consciousness, the soul, is not a separate reality, but a consequential phenomenon of the material world, then a fundamental truth of Christianity is shown not to be true because the concepts of heaven, and hell, and eternal life are based on the immateriality and indestructibility of the soul. The scientific demonstration of the material basis of consciousness would seem to mean the end of Christianity."

Ladies and gentlemen, it does just that. Think about it for a minute. If there is no soul, if you are your only your body, then when your body dies, you die. When your body decays, you decay. When your body disappears, you are gone. There is no sense to any discussion about the reality of life after death if you die with your body. Though this would not solve the question of whether God existed, because certainly there could be a God existing even if there were no eternally existing souls in human beings, it certainly does end the discussion about the relevance of Christianity.

Christianity is false, period, end of issue, end of story, if we have no soul. If there is not a substantial human rational soul, a "you" that is not your body, but interacts with your body, controls your body, has a deep unity with your brain, but is not the same thing as your brain, it is not identical to your brain. If those things aren't true, then it is all over for Christianity because all of Christianity is dependent on the notion that you survive the death of your body and that you, as a substantial soul, have to answer for the deeds done, as the Scriptures say, in the flesh. What it means by in the flesh is in the physical body. That is the point.

C.S. Lewis has made a comment, and I think it applies well to this particular issue. He says in the book God in the Dock, "In the old days it was supposed that when a thing seemed obviously true to a hundred men, then it was probably true in fact." Not so anymore, ladies and gentlemen. The things that seem so obvious to us, one being that we have a soul, are so obvious that we don't even reflect on them because it's so self- evident to us for a variety of different reasons.

I am not going to go into all the reasons right now why that is self- evident, but I am going to count on the fact that you have a self-conscious awareness of your own consciousness as something different from your physical body. I am going to give you some evidence why I think that that is true. But I guess I just want to say that that is just the most common sense approach to reality with regards to human beings. We just seem to know that to be the case.

Indeed, for those who believe differently, they have to be talked out of the obvious witness of their own self-reflection and their own experience. That is why I think that, as one philosopher put it, "the prevailing opinions in the science of mind are obviously false." You don't need to be a philosopher to figure this out. A few moments of reflection will do that. You don't need to be a scientist because you know something that a scientist couldn't possibly know.

Before I go any further, I want to make a recommendation to you. You really need to take about three hours of your time and read a book. It is not out of your reach, but you are going to have to go slowly and pay attention to what is being said. But once you do, you will never be up-ended about these kinds of articles again with regards to your faith and the nature of the soul and the brain. The book is entitled Immortality, The Other Side of Death , published by Thomas Nelson. The authors are J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas. J.P. Moreland gives his defense of what is known in philosophy as substance dualism. It is the idea that not only do you have a substantial body, but you have a substantial soul. The two work together, but they are separate. You cannot reduce the soul and all mental activity to mere activity of the brain.

The rest of the book is excellent, as well.

If you feel intimidated in dealing with this issue because you are not a neurologist, I want to put your fears to rest because you know something that the scientists do not know. What the scientists know has to do with the brain. But my discussion now is not principally about the brain, it is about the mind. There is only one person who has access to your mind. You. No one else knows your thoughts. No one else knows your feelings. No one else knows what it is like to be you. Technically, it is called de se knowledge. In other words, you have entirely private, first-person access to your own consciousness.

If I develop that a little further, that in itself would be a good defense for the idea that the soul is not the body, that the mind is not the brain because the brain and all other physical objects have no first-person priority or privileged access. They all have third-person access. Anybody can look at any physical thing and have the same kind of access to it as anyone else. It's a different argument. I'm not going to go into it now.

The main point that I want to make is that you know some things about your own consciousness because you have first-person access. Just what you know, the limited amount that you happen to know, is enough to let you know that you are not the same as your brain.

I think Paul is even on to this in 1 Corinthians 2:11. He mentions essentially the same thing: "For who among men knows the thoughts of a man e is talking about spirit in the context of the soul. He is using it synonymously with the inner man.

An important distinction to understand is between identity and constant correlation. I mentioned earlier that I think the article makes a very powerful point. Certain physical states of the brain certainly influence the soul.

But in identifying this fact, the neurologists have drawn the mistaken conclusion that since certain states are correlated, certain brain states are correlated with your soulish functions--memory, thinking, choices, feelings-- and that means there is no self, there is no soul, there is just a brain state. That is a big mistake. I know that they are not the same thing.

You can know for sure just with a moment's reflection that your brain is not your soul.

The headline in the article says, "A memory is nothing more than a few thousand brain cells firing in a particular pattern." In other words, they are saying that a memory is identical with brain cells firing in a pattern. It is not correlated with a mind state such that the brain cells firing causes your mind or soul to have a memory. It is saying that that's all it is.

That's like saying that a movie is nothing more than light shining through a piece of celluloid. A movie requires light shining through a piece of celluloid and then you can see it projected on the screen. But to say that it is nothing more than that misses something very obvious. Did you ever go upstairs in a movie theater and look through the window of the projection room? There is a big giant disc spinning, the celluloid goes through an apparatus, and there is hot light.

Now, what if I were to tell you that that is the movie right there. The movie is the physical action that I can see happening. You'd think that was ridiculous. A movie is much more than the physical mechanism, the machinery with the celluloid passing through it with a sharp, bright light behind it. Rather, the movie is the image that is being projected on the screen, and it's even more than just an image. There is a story, dialogue, characterization. There are all these other things that go beyond just the physical representation.

When one tries to limit mental activity to the physical processes that I believe produce the mental activity, but isn't the mental activity itself, it is the same as trying to say that a movie is merely the shining of a light through a celluloid strip. You can't capture the movie at all by looking at light shining through celluloid, which shows that a physicalistic explanation of what a movie amounts to falls far short of what the movie really is. What's more, if you look at the light on the celluloid, you will never, ever even see the movie.

This is a very apt metaphor because of a statement made in the article. "Using sensitive electrodes inserted deep into the gray matter of test animals, researchers have watched vision as it percolates inward from the eye's retina to the inner brain." See what it says there? It says that the researchers have watched vision. It goes on to say, "Scientists watch a thought taking place. They can see the red glow of fear erupting from the structure known as the amygdala or note the tell-tale firing of neurons as a long-buried memory is reconstructed."

They say they can watch the thought, they can watch vision, but what are they actually seeing when they are watching that physical activity? They are watching the retina and the inner brain respond, but they are not seeing what the test animal sees? They are not watching vision. In other words, they are not watching the movie, they are watching the celluloid go past the light.

When they say they watch a thought taking place because they can see the red glow of fear erupting from a structure known as the amygdala, are they seeing a thought? No, they are seeing a part of the brain. When the doctors look at the brain, they can't see the thoughts, just like looking at the film in the celluloid, you can't see the movie. The scientists apparently can turn the projector on, but they can't see your movie no matter how many electrodes they have in your brain. Even in these scientific tests, you must have a viewer to know what the memory is. Can they put electrodes in my brain, stimulate a memory, and tell me what the memory is? No. Why? They cannot see the projection on the screen. Only I can see that on the inside.

If it was all physical, they should be able to see all the physical stuff, including the memory. But they can't see the memory. They can't see the projection. They can't see the movie. Why? The movie is not physical. It's these physical things that they watch that produces an image that occurs in my mind--an image that no one else can see. Why? All they can see are physical things and your mind is not physical.

There is a caption under a picture that says, "Mind probe. The pet scan. A key tool of brain research lets scientists watch mental processes as they happen." But what does it watch? It watches physical changes. It can't see your thoughts. It can't see your images, nor can it feel your feelings.

Think about your feelings for just a moment. A feeling is not just a chemical reaction. How do I know? Chemical reactions don't hurt, but feelings do. Feelings have a quality about them. What could be more obvious? As a matter of fact, it is so obvious that I feel silly even talking about it because you know this as well as I know this. Feelings have a particular texture to them that can't be captured in a chemical description. But someone in a white coat wants to tell you that you are not having a feeling, you're having a chemical reaction. And this one person told me, if it is just a chemical reaction, then why does it hurt so much?

C.S. Lewis wrote in God in the Dock , "It is disastrous when instead of merely attending to a rose, we are forced to think of ourselves looking at the rose with a certain type of mind and a certain type of eyes. It is disastrous because if you are not careful, the color of the rose gets attributed to our optic nerves and its scent to our noses and in the end, there is no rose left." Lewis is on to something here because if you follow this article to its logical conclusion, in the end there is no feeling left. There is no love, no pain, no compassion, no comfort, no beauty. There are no roses, no Mona Lisas, no Beethoven sonatas, no teenage puppy love. All that's left is chemical reactions, light waves and vibrating molecules. You know better, ladies and gentlemen, you know better.

The article is basically an assessment of the physical capabilities of the brain, which is fine. I think it is great to map out the brain. I think it is great to look at what the brain can do, and I think it is very helpful in many cases to see the correlation between brain activity and mental activity. My deep concern, though, is that this work on the brain by scientists and by science has an additional agenda behind it, much like the agenda that evolutionary science in its birth and subsequent development has had also. It wasn't just science that it was interested in. There were theological, philosophical, metaphysical aspects to it.

Darwin's attempt was to get God out of the picture with regards to the issues of origins, and I suspect that much of what is going on in neurology is an attempt to get rid of the mind so that all you have left is the brain. That's why even though all of this assessment is interesting and I think contributes greatly to our understanding of the relationship of the brain to the mind, there is certainly a tenor in this magazine article that is trying to give you the scientific explanation in order to argue that our belief that we exist as a center of consciousness, as a rational soul, is just simply mistaken.

Here's my final point on this issue. If the mind is reduced to the brain, pretty soon everything is lost. Feelings become chemical reactions, beautiful objects become light waves, beautiful music is reduced to vibrating molecules. Where did the music go? Where did the beauty go? Where did the feeling go? It's all gone. It ought to be obvious to us that this reduction is insane. It can't be made. It isn't valid. It's misleading.

Of course I think you know better than to accept this, but you may be intimidated by scientists in white coats telling you that you aren't really feeling love, you're just having a chemical reaction. You're not really seeing something beautiful, this is just light of various wave lengths. You're not really hearing something wonderful, it is just vibrating molecules.

But there is a deeper problem. If consciousness is just a property created by the brain, then when you make a decision who or what does the deciding? If consciousness is a mere effect of chemical reactions in the brain, then your conscious act of deciding is not a free will act of your own, it is a result of some physical process that came before it. Your choices are controlled by physical events outside of your will. To put it more bluntly, you have no will at all. Not really. Why not? According to this view, physical states produce particular mental states, which produce particular physical states all following one after another in a determined pattern just like railroad cars following an engine. guess what? You have not only lost the rose and Beethoven and your teenage puppy love, you've lost you, too. And by the way, that is exactly what this article says.

Let me read it to you: "Despite our every instinct to the contrary, [which is a tacit admission we already know what is right here and we have to deny] there is one thing that consciousness is not. Some entity deep inside the brain that corresponds to the self. Some kernel of awareness that runs the show as the man behind the curtain manipulating the illusion of a powerful magician in the Wizard of Oz. After more than a century of looking for it, brain researchers have long since concluded that there is no conceivable place for such a self to be located in the physical brain and that it simply doesn't exist."

That is the most bizarre statement I have heard in a long time. It's like the man looking for the invisible rabbit. He said, I have looked high and low and I can't find it, therefore it doesn't exist. If there are invisible rabbits, you are not going to find them anywhere. Why not? They are invisible. That doesn't prove they do exist, it just simply points out that you can't disqualify the existence of something by looking for it in a way that won't turn it up. You don't look for the mind in the brain and try to find a location for it because the mind is not something physical by definition . You can't conclude that it doesn't exist because you haven't found it after a century of looking. You don't find it that way. You infer it from other things, and we have inferred it very directly and very successfully with a couple of very simple arguments. There are more in Moreland's book on immortality.

Lewis put it this way and he really captured it: "I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all other accidents. It's like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset."

Do you see the price that you have to pay to buy this point of view? Everything gets lost. Even you. Even the scientists that think they're thinking these conclusions. They're gone, too. So, why trust the conclusions?

This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. 1995 Gregory Koukl


Why Forgive


Johann Christoph Arnold

Excerpted from Why Forgive?, available FREE in e-book format.

Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to a single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer's apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell.
Hannah Arendt

When we assure a person who has hurt us that we no longer hold anything against him, all he has to do is accept our kindness - at least that is what we might hope. But that is often more easily said than done. For many people, the problem of guilt cannot be solved with another's forgiveness, or by any external means at all. For them, peace of mind comes only when they are able to forgive themselves.

I first met Delf Fransham in 1953. That was the year he moved from the United States to the remote South American village where I grew up and began to teach at the local school. There were eleven of us in his class, all boys, and all ruffians, and a few days into his first term we decided to put him to the test.

One typical Paraguayan morning (humid and around 110 degrees), we offered to take him on a hike. Officially, we wanted to show him the sights. Privately, we wanted to see what he was made of. After leading him at least ten kilometers through jungle, prairie, and swampland, we finally turned back. Shortly after we arrived home he collapsed with heat stroke.

Delf was in bed for days, but we hardly gave it a thought. We had achieved exactly what we wanted - proved him a sissy. But we were in for a small surprise. The day he came back to school he said, "Boys, let's try that hike again." We couldn't believe it! We covered the same route again and, sure enough, this time he did not succumb to the heat. Delf won our respect and our hearts that day, and we trusted him from then on. (There was something else to it, too: a talented athlete, he taught us soccer and loved to play with us.)

Decades later, and only by chance, I found out why Delf had poured so much love and energy into reaching his students. He had lost a child of his own.

Nicholas was born when the Franshams were still living in the United States, and one day as Delf was backing a truckload of firewood into their driveway, two-year-old Nicholas, who was playing outdoors, ran to meet his father. Delf did not see him until it was too late, and ran over him.

Katie, Delf's wife, was busy inside the house when he carried in their little boy, limp in his arms. She remembers:

I was beside myself - absolutely frantic - but Delf steadied me. We took Nicholas to our doctor, who was also the coroner, and explained what had happened...

There was never any question about forgiving my husband, as I knew I was just as much to blame. Likewise he did not blame me, only himself. We stood in our sorrow together.

Delf, however, could not forgive himself, and the accident haunted him for years. From then on, he went out of his way to make time for children - time he could not spend with the son he had killed.

Looking back, I remember how his eyes often glistened with tears, and wonder what it was that made them come. Was it that he saw his son in us? Was he imagining the boy his toddler would never become? Whatever the reason, it seems that Delf's determination to show love to others was his way of making up for the anguish he had caused himself and his family by unintentionally taking a life. I am convinced that it saved him from brooding, and from nursing his feelings of guilt. Through loving others he was able to forgive himself and regain a sense of wholeness and peace.

John Plummer lives the quiet life of a Methodist pastor in a sleepy Virginia town these days, but things weren't always so. A helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, he helped organize a napalm raid on the village of Trang Bang in 1972 - a bombing immortalized by the prize-winning photograph of one of its victims, Phan Thi Kim Phuc.

For the next twenty-four years, John was haunted by the photograph - an image that for many people captured the essence of the war: a naked and burned nine-year-old running toward the camera, with plumes of black smoke billowing in the sky behind her.

For twenty-four years John's conscience tormented him. He badly wanted to find the girl to tell her that he was sorry - but he could not. Turning in on himself, he grew more and more depressed (the collapse of two marriages didn't help), and he began to drink.

Then, in an almost unbelievable coincidence, John met Kim during an event at the Vietnam War Memorial on Veterans Day, 1996. Kim had come to Washington, D.C., to lay a wreath for peace; John had come with a group of former pilots unable to come to terms with their shared past, but determined to stick together anyway.

In a speech to the crowd, Kim introduced herself as the girl in the famous photograph. She still suffered immensely from her burns, she said, but she was not bitter, and she wanted people to know that others had suffered even more than she had: "Behind that picture of me, thousands and thousands of people...died. They lost parts of their bodies. Their whole lives were destroyed, and nobody took their picture."

Kim went on to say that although she could not change the past, she had forgiven the men who had bombed her village, and that she felt a calling to promote peace by fostering goodwill between America and Vietnam. John, beside himself, pushed through the crowds and managed to catch her attention before she was whisked away by a police escort. He identified himself as a former pilot in Vietnam and said that he felt responsible for the bombing of her village twenty-four years before. He says:

Kim saw my grief, my pain, my sorrow...She held out her arms to me and embraced me. All I could say was "I'm sorry; I'm sorry" - over and over again. And at the same time she was saying, "It's all right, I forgive you."

John says that it was vital for him to meet face to face with Kim, and to tell her that he had agonized for years over her injuries. Without having had the chance to get that off his chest, he is not sure he could have ever forgiven himself. As it turned out, of course, he got even more than he hoped for: Kim forgave him.

Reflecting on the way the incident changed his life, John maintains that forgiveness is "neither earned nor even deserved, but a gift." It is also a mystery. He still can't quite grasp how a short conversation could wipe away a twenty-four-year nightmare.

Pat, another Vietnam veteran, is a gentle, quiet man who loves children and horses. In the seven years since I first met him, however, I have become aware that he has a darker side - one that centers on his inability to forgive himself:

Death is on my mind a lot. The deaths I have caused - and wanting my own death - are with me every day. I joke around a lot with the people I work with. I have to, to hide the pain and to keep my mind from thinking. I need to laugh. Laughing keeps the blues away.

But I cannot love. Part of my soul is missing, and it seems I won't ever get it back. I don't know if I can ever forgive myself for all of my wrongs. I live day to day, but I am tired all the time - tired. Will it ever end? I don't see how. It's been with me over twenty-five years now.

People like Pat are often urged to receive formal counseling, to join a support group, or to attend group therapy meetings so as to compare notes with others who have had similar experiences. He has done all of this, and still not found peace. Perhaps, like John, he wishes he could meet the families of those he killed - an unlikely opportunity - or bring the victims themselves back to life so he could ask their forgiveness - an obviously impossible one. So what should he do?

A conversation Robert Coles once had with the psychoanalyst Anna Freud may hint at an answer. Discussing an elderly client with a long and troubled psychological history, Freud suddenly concluded:

You know, before we say good-bye to this lady, we should wonder among ourselves not only what to think - we do that all the time! - but what in the world we would want for her. Oh, I don't mean psychotherapy; she's had lots of that. It would take more years, I suspect, of psychoanalysis than the good Lord has given her...No, she's had her fill of "us," even if she doesn't know it...This poor old lady doesn't need us at all...What she forgiveness. She needs to make peace with her soul, not talk about her mind. There must be a God, somewhere, to help her, to hear her, to heal her...and we certainly aren't the ones who will be of assistance to her in that regard!

Freud's point is a valid one, even for a person who claims to have no belief in God. At some level, all of us must come to terms with the parts of ourselves that we wish we could erase. All of us yearn for the freedom to live without guilt. At some level, every one of us longs for forgiveness.

Yet when all is said and done, we cannot acquire it. Sometimes the person we have wronged is unable or unwilling to forgive us. Sometimes we are unable or unwilling to forgive ourselves. Even the best psychoanalysis, the most earnest confession of guilt, may not be enough to assure us of lasting relief or healing.

But the power of forgiveness still exists, and as John Plummer found out, it can work wonders even when we are sure that we have neither earned nor deserved it. It comes to us as a gift, often when we feel least worthy of receiving it. Finally, like any gift, it can be accepted or rejected. What we do with it is up to us.



There are three kinds of forgiveness, all interrelated. There is self-forgiveness, which enables us to release our guilt and perfectionism. There is the forgiveness we extend to others and receive from them, intimates and enemies alike. And there is the forgiveness of God that assures us of our worth and strengthens us for this practice.

All the spiritual traditions raise up the value of forgiveness, but many people still find it to be a nearly impossible ideal. Just start somewhere. Look truthfully at one hurt you have not been able to forgive. Identify any associated feelings you might have, such as anger, denial, guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Imagine what it would be like to live without feeling this offense. Then let it go.

Other steps may be necessary for healing — a confession of your contribution to the conflict, making amends, changing behavior, a commitment to the community — but giving up your claims for, and sometimes against, yourself is where you have to begin.


New behaviors needed to create self-forgiveness


In order to forgive yourself you need to practice:

Letting go of past hurt and pain.


Trusting in your goodness.

Trusting in the goodness and mercy of your Higher Power to take over the burden for you.

Letting go and letting your Higher Power lead you during a hurtful time.

Believing in the infinite justice and wisdom of your Higher Power.

Letting go of fears for the future.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to growth.

Taking a risk.

Letting go of self hostility, resentment and self-destructive behaviors.

Working out your self anger.

Overlooking slight relapses or steps backward and getting back on the wagon of recovery immediately.

Developing a personal spirituality.

Developing an openness to the belief that you can change.

Developing trust in yourself.

Open, honest, and assertive communication with yourself concerning hurts, pains, and offenses experienced.

Identifying and replacing the irrational beliefs that block your ability to forgive yourself.

Steps to develop self-forgiveness

Step 1: In order to increase your ability to forgive yourself, you need to recognize what this behavior involves. Answer the following questions in your journal.

  1. What do you mean by "self forgiveness''?

  2. Have you ever forgiven yourself before? How did it feel?

  3. Have you ever brought up something from the past to remind you how you hurt yourself or others? How did that make you feel?

  4. What role do you feel self forgiveness has in your growing down? How could you improve?

  5. How has the absence of forgiving yourself affected your current emotional stability?

  6. What are the signs of the absence of self forgiveness in your relationship with your: (1) family of origin, (2) current family, (3) significant others, (4) spouse, (5) children, (6) parents, (7) relatives, (8) friends, (9) coworkers? With whom do you experience a wall or barrier behind which you hide your past real or perceived failures, mistakes, errors, or misdeeds? What feedback do you get about this wall you have been hiding behind?

  7. What beliefs block your ability to forgive yourself? What would be necessary to change these beliefs?

  8. What new behaviors do you need to develop in order to increase your ability to forgive yourself?

  9. What role does the existence of spirituality play in your ability to forgive yourself? The lack of it?

  10. For what do you need to forgive yourself?

Step 2: Now that you have a better picture of what is involved in self forgiveness, you are ready to work on a specific past failure, mistake, error, or misdeed.

  1. List a failure, mistake, error, misdeed, or event for which you are unable to forgive yourself.

  2. How much energy, creativity, problem solving capability, and focus on growth is sapped from you whenever you recall this past hurt?

  3. What feelings come to mind as you recall this past hurt?

  4. How would you describe your role in this past event? In what ways were you the victim, perpetrator, enabler, martyr, bystander, instigator, target, scapegoat, distracter, peacemaker, people pleaser, or rescuer?

  5. Why do you feel strongly over what happened and how you treated yourself or others?

  6. What did this event do to your self-esteem and self worth?

  7. Who was responsible for your reaction to the incident?

  8. Who was responsible for your feelings about the incident?

  9. Who was responsible for your inability to forgive yourself?

  10. How can you forgive yourself?

  11. How can you put this incident behind you?

  12. How can you avoid being so hurt when something like this happens again?

Step 3: Once you have thought out how to forgive yourself for this past mistake, failure, error, or event, use this self forgiveness mirror work script. For the next thirty days let go of your self anger, self blaming, self hatred, self disgust, and self-pity over this specific past event by spending time in front of a mirror using this script.

Self Forgiveness Mirror Script

I forgive you for (the past event).

You are a human being subject to making mistakes and errors.

You do not need to be perfect in order for me to love you.

This (past event) is just an example of the challenges which you have been given on earth by your Higher Power.

You will meet the challenge and grow by handing the pain and hurt from this problem (past event) over to your Higher Power to take it off your shoulders.

You don't need to be so burdened by the pain and hurt you feel because of this (past event).

You are a good person. I love you.

You deserve my understanding, compassion, and forgiveness.

You deserve to come out from behind the wall you have built around yourself as a result of this (past event).

Hand the wall over to your Higher Power so you can become more visible to me and others.

I love seeing you, talking to you, and listening to you.

You have within you all you need to grow in self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, and self deservedness.

There is nothing you have ever done that can't be forgiven by me.

You did the best you could knowing what you did at the time.

You have compulsive and impulsive habitual ways of acting which you are working to change.

You may have slip ups again but as long as you get back on the wagon of recovery and keep on trying that's good enough for me.

You no longer need to condemn yourself for this (past event).

You are forgiven. I love you and I am so happy to have you in my life.

You and I are best friends and together we will gain strength by giving all our past hurt, pain, guilt, self anger, and self hatred over to our Higher Power.

I feel lighter as we talk because I feel the burden of the hurt, pain, and guilt over this (past event) lifting from my shoulders.

I see you holding your head up and standing taller as I forgive you for this (past event).

I know that your Higher Power has forgiven you and I feel the peace and serenity of letting go of the need to hold on to it (past event) anymore.

I forgive you because you deserve to be forgiven. No one needs to hold onto such a burden for so long.

You deserve a better life than you have been giving yourself.

Let go of this (past event) and know that you are forgiven.

You are a loveable, capable, special person and I promise to continue to work on letting go of hurt and pain from the past which has been preventing your inner healing and self growth.

Step 4: Once you have forgiven yourself fully over the past incident, repeat Step 3 addressing one at a time all the past or present incidents of hurting self or others for which you need to forgive yourself.

Step 5: When you have exhausted your list of incidents for which you need self-forgiveness, you will be on the road to self-recovery. If you have problems in the future, return to Step 1 and begin again.

source :

© 2003-2021 * Disclaimer - Copyright - Privacy
Edited, Presented and Published for the life and faith, faith in life