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Forgiveness is putting these biblical words into action: "Do not hate your brother in your heart; rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself, I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19,17-18)
What does it mean to forgive?
The word forgive comes from the Latin "perdonare'', derived from 'donare', which means to 'hold harmless from, to give everything', to prefix 'per' reinforcing the action.
The phrase 'perdoner la vida - spare (pardon) a life' will evolve to 'pardonare - pardon' and finally 'forgive'. It means not to keep any resentment, putting aside vengeance; it is to forget, absolve, grant reprieve....
"And if for human weakness' tis too great/ To pardon all the burnings of : regret, / Oh, spare thyself at least the scourge of hate; / Tho' thou canst not forgive, thou canst forget."(1)
Why and how should we forgive?
Anger, resentment and hatred are poisons that inhibit the offended person and day after day gnaw away at him. Resentment towards a person, family or community always gives rise to thoughts of vengeance, or even hatred; this state of affairs cannot be resolved without sincere and genuine forgiveness.
It is not easy to forget, and even harder to forgive. Today, many psychotherapists work with patients on this notion of forgiveness to help the individuals manage emotions such as anger, anxiety and depression. Olivier Clerc holds 'forgiveness workshops', allowing 20 to 40 participants; the first thing he teaches though, is not forgiveness but learning to ask for forgiveness: 'Why on earth should I ask for forgiveness when I am the one who has been hurt? It is absurd. But I do not ask forgiveness for what the other person has done to me; it is his responsibility. I ask to be forgiven for what I have done with what he said or did to me.
NOT TO FORGIVE IS TO PREVENT OURSELVES FROM FULLY LIVING IN THE PRESENT, BECAUSE WE ARE CONSTANTLY 'THINKING ON THE PAST'.
I ask for forgiveness for having borne the wound for months and years. I ask to be forgiven for having used the other person as an excuse to keep my heart closed and nourishing hatred over an indefinite period. And in so doing I free myself! I regain self-control and personal responsibility.' (From an interview with Oliver Clerc)
'Have we not always been told that our heart wants to be clean and pure, as does our body, if not more? Have we not been taught that negative emotions, anger, hatred, resentment, rumour, snap judgements, and so on, end up leaving toxic deposits on the walls of our emotional system, thus preventing our heart from loving unconditionally? Nobody can pass through the narrow door of forgiveness while still burdened with anger over past events, or carrying a load of various grievances that will not do.' (2)
The need to forgive may take a trans-personal and collective dimension in cases where ancestral conflicts between ethnic or religious groups have led to wars, terrorism or genocide. In the absence of forgiveness, suffering is perpetuated, and bitterness and hatred are transmitted from one generation to the other, without ever reaching the necessary liberation from this enchainment to evil. This is the karma of peoples. For example, some states have committed genocide, like in Guatemala against the Ixil-Maya Indians.
On the road to forgiveness, we should be able to translate aggression feelings into words, and to achieve this, we will need a sympathetic ear, a confidant or a friend, a trusted person who can demonstrate compassion or a suitable practitioner. Expressing our emotions will help us identify our suffering and alleviate them. The process of forgiveness can then begin: by freeing ourselves from our first faults. The desire to return evil for evil heightens the injury and keeps us continually in the past. It becomes difficult to live in the present, and future prospects diminish and even may disappear.
Not to forgive is to prevent ourselves from fully living in the present, because we are constantly 'thinking of the past'. But it is also to deprive ourselves of spiritual development, because these unceasing thoughts strain the brain to the point of sickness. Eckhart Tolle says: 'Forgiveness is to relinquish your grievance and to let go of grief. It happens naturally once you realise that your grievance serves no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self. Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life - to allow life to live through you. The alternatives are pain and suffering, a greatly restricted flow of life energy, and in many cases physical disease.'
Can we forgive the unforgivable?
Such as incest, rape, murder.....'Forgiveness is there to forgive precisely what no excuse would know how to excuse.' says the philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch. It is 'made for such hopeless and incurable cases.'
The powerful testimony of an American death-row prisoner shows that it is possible to forgive the unforgivable. After having met with the parents of his victim, he said: 'I have never been so scared in my life and when they said they forgave me, I felt the ground opening up under my feet and I burst into tears. I was able to cry for months afterwards. By showing me what it is to be a human being, they have helped me to realise my crime.'
'FORGIVENESS OF THE CULPRIT CAN ONLY COME FROM THE PERSON WHO SUFFERED THE OFFENCE, NOT OTHERWISE."
Let us mention another incident: The picture of the little Vietnamese girl 'Kim' running naked down a village road, screaming in agony and desperation, which was portrayed on the front page of Life Magazine in 1972, had a surprising twist twenty-four years later. At a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a long granite wall on which are inscribed the names of the fifty eight thousand Americans who lost their live in Vietnam, Ms. Kim Phuc spoke out over the crowd to the author of her misfortune.
'If I could talk face to face with the pilot who dropped the bomb, I would tell him we cannot change history but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace.'
Nearly five thousand veterans of the Vietnam War gave the young woman a standing ovation.
It took years for the Vietnamese woman to recover from the physical and psychological injuries she sustained during the attack. Offering her thank in the same breath to journalists, nurses, doctors and family members who helped her over the years following the events, she added: 'I learned that in order to be free I had to learn to forgive - the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it!'
Who are we condemn?
'Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her' (John 8,7), said Jesus to the scribes and Pharisees who had brought to him a woman caught in adultery. Are we ourselves also without sin that we do not have to seek the forgiveness of those around us because of our negligence, selfishness, mistakes or other quirks? The media inundate us with information that can often elicit resentment towards a person whom we have never met and whom we blame for not thinking like us or imposing a behaviour or lifestyle which we find offensive. Resentment may then build up inside us and bring us to a state where we think that the whole world, and even occasionally God, is against us! Our thought-forms thus create autonomous entities, real power centres that work invisibly like pollution hanging over nations. Therefore, we too are greatly in need of forgiveness.
Rather than hate our enemies, we must love them, as Jesus has taught us:'But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you...'(Matthew 5,44). 'Pray', is the key which represents the best form of help we can render to those who have offended us; love for our neighbour is also manifested in this action. If we pray sincerely, it spontaneously leads to forgiveness, which frees us from our resentful thoughts.
Trust in God
One who is guilty of causing injury to another person is strongly tied to this wrongful action, and of course with the offended person. However, one must take into the fact that the injured party can reinforce this link and be himself tied to the wrongdoing if he entertains thoughts of hatred and vengeance. This sad state of affairs can persist in the beyond after physical death, and into the next incarnation, where the cycle of this link of thread must come to a closure and unwind, even if we no longer remember the original action. The Cosmic Laws of the Creator that enable us to forget the wrongdoings of our previous life are very wise, because otherwise, in most cases, our present life would be impossible. This is why Jesus advises in the Lord's Prayer He gave to His disciples:'And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us!'In this sentence, Abd-ru-shin tells us, 'lies the knowledge of the incorruptible and just reciprocal action of the spiritual laws ordained by the Will of God. At the same time it expresses the assurance of complete confidence therein. For the plea for forgiveness or redemption from guilt is conditional upon the petitioner having previously forgiven all the wrongs inflicted upon him by his fellow-men.' (4)
If we are offended, we should not therefore feed any resentment, any desire to return evil with evil. Have we not been told: 'To me belong vengeance and recompense. In due time their feet will slip, because their time of calamity is near and the things prepared for them draw near;, thus said the Lord in Deuteronomy 32,35 with reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul reiterates this same maxim:'Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written; Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.'(12,17-19)
Recognising our faults
Forgiveness is closely linked to repentance, to redemption from our faults, to purification; this is the way Jesus told His disciples: 'So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, I repent, you must forgive them.'(Luke 17, 3-4). One can then understand why Peter came to Jesus and asked: 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.' (Matthew 18, 21-22). Here the number 7 is symbolic, and Jesus' response is significant: forgiveness is not calculated, it is heartfelt or it is not. It refers to the origin of the word itself: the giving of oneself, unconditional giving.
The strongest utterance on this subject was without doubt that made by Jesus on the cross: 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' It is one of the greatest prayers of intercession ever made: that the Father might give humanity another chance to pick themselves up and make a fresh start. But one thing is required from mankind: that it repents for the inexcusable murder of the Bearer of the Truth. This prayer, though, does not allow us to interpret the death of Jesus on the cross in a wrong manner, namely, that He died to redeem our sins. This idea goes against nature and it could not be more contrary to the Laws of Creation. It is obvious that if it had truly been the case, this prayer would not have been necessary. This is why recognising our propensities and other faults is essential for progress. And it is through humility that we can receive strength for a beneficial change.
Can we receive forgiveness from a third party?
The absolution given by a priest at confession, the presidential pardon which is only a relic of religion in a secular state....are contrary to the very act of forgiving, which can only be offered by the offended party. It is a wrong interpretation of the words of Jesus to His disciples: 'If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'(John 20,23).
I should therefore like to conclude with an expert of The Grail Message by Abd-ru-shin, which clearly explains how these words should be understood, and the process of forgiveness itself:
'The actions of many religious ministers, however, indicate doubt in their own teaching, because they stand in direct contradiction to it, and by their deeds they openly disavow its basic tenets. For example, the bearing of confession and the imposition of penance, the sale of indulgences whether for money or for prayer, which is supposed to be followed by the immediate forgiveness of sins, and other similar customs, are, if considered calmly, a denial of the Divine Will resting in the Laws of Creation. He who does no more than merely engage in a desultory consideration of these practices will see in them nothing else but an absolute belittlement of the Perfection of God.
'When Jesus the Son of God once said to His disciples: "Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them...", these words were not meant as a general licence to act arbitrarily. That would have been equivalent to upsetting the Divine Will as embodied in the immutable power of reciprocal action, which in its active working carries reward and punishment with incorruptible and Divine, and therefore perfect, Justice. It would have meant a permitted interruption of this law. This Jesus could never have done, neither did He do it, because He had come to "fulfil" the laws, not to overthrow them!
"With these words He meant the lawful operations which rest in the Creative Will, whereby one human being can forgive that injury which he has suffered at the hands of another human being! Being the victim he has the right and also the power to forgive! His sincere forgiveness will turn aside and break the power of the karma which would otherwise surely develop for the other through reciprocal action, and in this actual happening lies at the same time real forgiveness.
'This forgiveness of the culprit can only come from the person who suffered the offence, not otherwise! It is for this reason that there is so much blessing and deliverance in personal forgiveness when it is honestly meant and intuitively felt.
'A person not immediately involved is quite naturally excluded from the threads of reciprocal action and therefore cannot actively and effectively intervene because of this fact. He can only intervene by prayer in such cases, the effect of which, however, depends on the condition of the souls of those immediately concerned. He himself must remain on the outside and therefore cannot bring about forgiveness! This alone rests in God's Will, which reveals Itself in the laws of just reciprocal actions, against which He Himself would never act, because they were perfect from the beginning according to His Will.
'.......Thus no man can forgive another an offence unless he has personally been the sufferer! The law of Reciprocal Action would remain uninfluenced by anything not interwoven in it with the living thread, and this can only come about through being directly involved. Reformation alone is the living road to forgiveness! '
Original text by Claude Thibeaudeau, compiled for this Blog post by Edeltraud Grace
1 Alfred de Musset, Poems- The October night
2 Olivier Clerc. Gift of Forgiveness
3 Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
4 Abd-ru-shin, In the Light of Truth - The Grail Message. Vol 2, Lecture: I am thy God
5 Experts from the Bible
Edeltraud Jakob Grace: