Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The Essence of Forgiveness

So, a good friend of mine asked me to write about the essence of forgiveness.   It’s interesting that he asked me for its essence.  Had he just asked me to write something on forgiveness, that would have been pretty easy.  I might have said that it is simply a necessity, that people cannot function in society well if they don’t forgive.  And I could have cited an abundance of examples.  People who hold grudges—i.e. they don’t forgive—have to carry those grudges around with them.  Hold enough of them—hold enough of anything, and it will weigh you down.

Or maybe grudges are the opposite of heavy things.  Maybe they are more like helium balloons.  One or two, even three or four tied around your wrist are annoyances but won’t substantially change your interactions.  I mean, people will notice, of course, that you have balloon strings tied to your wrists and helium balloons annoyingly bobbing over your head, just as they notice that you hold grudges, but they won’t think much about it. Well, yes, they might think you’re a little weird, as an adult, to be bringing helium balloons with you every where you go, as if you were a little kid. But, given how weird the world is nowadays, they probably won’t say much about it. They’ll just think what they think when they see you got a henna tattoo or died your hair pink and green—they’ll think, “whatever,” and the generous ones will add “floats your boat.”

But as you keep adding to your collection of those balloons—well, that will make getting in and out of an elevator really challenging.  And you can forget going through a revolving door at the entrance to a fancy hotel.  You’ll have too many balloons for that.  And people will notice because you are always talking about your grudges—er, balloons—because they are, frankly, noticeable.  So, in the end, you’ll be what the ancient Greeks called an idiotes, someone so independent of everyone else, so much an “individual” that they become an idiot.  And if you continue adding balloons, eventually you’ll be swept up in a wind and even though, at first, you’ll enjoy looking down on everyone—something you’ve probably been doing anyhow for quite a while already—you’ll eventually be transported somewhere you really don’t want to go. The only way back down to earth will be to let go of your balloons, one at a time.  But the true idiot won’t do that.  He’d rather cling to them and float around above other human beings than let even one of them go, even if that were the only way back.

But that is not the essence of forgiveness. That is simply what happens to you if you hold grudges and refuse to forgive.  The essence of forgiveness is—and I have one friend who will most certainly not want to read this—is the same as the essence of love: it is sacrifice.  It’s not quite the same kind of sacrifice that love demands, but it’s similar.  Love demands putting the other person first, caring for that person’s needs first, taking second place, even third, fourth or fifth, as appropriate.  The kind of sacrifice that forgiveness demands is even greater.  It demands that you surrender.  And you must surrender something that is the greatest sacrifice of all those that you could possibly make: your pride. That includes your sense of soaring above the other person, buoyed up on your fistful of balloons, so you can look down on them and say, “See, I was right, and you were wrong!”  Yep, you have to sacrifice your burning desire to “win the argument,” the rush of satisfaction you think you will have (but you won’t) once you’ve “won” the argument. Yes, that’s pride.

So that’s the essence of forgiveness, as far as I can see, from the human point of view: sacrificing your pride.  From the divine point of view, it is quite another kind of sacrifice. But I leave that aside, for blood-red Good Friday is still many a Friday away from these chill-grey October days. 

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