See the value of giving up, not some,
but all of your judgments.
FORGIVENESS: WHY AND HOW
© 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
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:
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.
there are great differences in perceptions, that we are blind to how we
impact others, and that we all tend to idealize ourselves.
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
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!
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
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.
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
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..."
whether the other person responds or changes, the final step is to keep on willing love and goodness to them, wishing the best for
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
Human Responsiveness, Inc. 6200 Winchester Road, Lexington, KY
40509-9520, tel 606-293-5302, Email
reference on forgiveness is Dr. Robert Enright, PO box 6153. Madison WI
53716-0153 608-222-0241. Email
10 Stepping Stones to Spiritual, Physical and Emotional Health
by Gerald Jampolsky, M.D. and Diane V. Cirincione, Ph.D.
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.
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
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
to the possibility of changing your beliefs about forgiveness.
Recognize that forgiveness is an act of strength, not weakness.
willing to let go of being a victim.
believe that holding on to grievances and unforgiving thoughts is
choosing to suffer. Find no value in self-pity.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
that you have the power to choose the thoughts you put into your
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.
Be willing to
make peace of mind your only goal and believe that forgiveness is
the key to happiness.
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!
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.
A freely chosen gift (rather than a grim obligation).
The overcoming of wrongdoing with good.
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
The person did this because.....it wasn't really their responsibility.
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
One person's moral response to another's injustice
Reconciliation: Two parties coming together in
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
(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
Gandhi (1869-1948) biography
Gandhi: Century 2000
Gandhi Text Collection
Gandhi Ashram - his life and times.
M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
(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
Dr. King Jr.- from the Seattle Times.
Dr. King Jr.- tribute from Life Magazine.
), South African activist and statesman, who was elected the
first black president of
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
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
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
www.LawStreet.com- 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
Desmond Tutu World Hello Day letters.
Tutu Preaches Peace
Who IS Archbishop Desmond Tutu
"The Rape of Nanking" Forward by Desmond Tutu.
FORGIVENESS OF SELF
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
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?
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.
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
all around you. Your life becomes more fulfilling, more rewarding, more
exciting, more loving. So take the time to let go. Let
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Johann Christoph Arnold
Why Forgive?, available FREE in e-book
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
needs...is 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.
THE BASIC PRACTICE
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.
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.
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
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
Working out your self anger.
Overlooking slight relapses or steps backward
and getting back on the wagon of recovery
Developing a personal spirituality.
Developing an openness to the belief that you
Developing trust in yourself.
Open, honest, and assertive communication with
yourself concerning hurts, pains, and offenses
Identifying and replacing the irrational beliefs
that block your ability to forgive yourself.
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
What do you mean by "self
Have you ever forgiven
yourself before? How did it feel?
Have you ever brought up
something from the past to remind you how you hurt
yourself or others? How did that make you feel?
What role do you feel self
forgiveness has in your growing down? How could you
How has the absence of
forgiving yourself affected your current emotional
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?
What beliefs block your
ability to forgive yourself? What would be necessary
to change these beliefs?
What new behaviors do you
need to develop in order to increase your ability to
What role does the
existence of spirituality play in your ability to
forgive yourself? The lack of it?
For what do you need to
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
List a failure, mistake, error,
misdeed, or event for which you are unable to
How much energy, creativity,
problem solving capability, and focus on growth is
sapped from you whenever you recall this past hurt?
What feelings come to mind as you recall this past hurt?
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?
Why do you feel strongly over what happened and how you
treated yourself or others?
What did this event do to your self-esteem and self
Who was responsible for your reaction to the incident?
Who was responsible for your feelings about the incident?
Who was responsible for your inability to forgive
How can you forgive yourself?
How can you put this incident behind you?
How can you avoid being so hurt when something like this
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
You do not need to be perfect in order for me to
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
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
You deserve to come out from behind the wall you
have built around yourself as a result of this
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
You have within you all you need to grow in
self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, and
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
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
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)
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
Let go of this (past event) and know that you
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.
Disclaimer - Copyright - Privacy
Edited, Presented and Published for the
life and faith, faith in life