“Can we ever truly forgive someone?”
Chinaman: You have been told to forgive those who persecute you, those who hurt you, to forgive and forgive. Your scriptures talk of ‘to turn the other cheek’ and to love your enemies.
That sounds so simple, such a clear directive, but it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. You hear time and again of people who have been hurt – terribly hurt – on your news programmes, and so many of them say they forgive those who were the perpetrators of their pain or injury. Yet I know that so many people who hear those newscasts doubt the truth of that forgiveness. I am afraid I do as well.
As I say, forgiveness is a very difficult thing to do, and although the words are given, if you could actually see that person’s heart or get into their subconscious mind, then you would probably see a very different picture. For those words indeed do help – a bit – but for what ends? It may be that the person is really in denial, for they do not like to feel the anger, the hatred the anguish and pain. They do not want it. They initially feel that blind hatred yet have been told repeatedly that that is not acceptable, so as they do not like it they deny it. It is so much easier that way. And if there is that denial of strong emotions then it is easier to say that they forgive them and the words help assuage the guilt of denial.
What are they forgiving?
Or it may be that teachings from their pastor or their church or religion tell them that they should love their enemies or turn the other cheek. Then I wonder if it more out of a fear of their pastor or fear of their god – fearing Judgement – so they would much rather push those feelings of anger to one side – try to bury them – than to face their greater guilt. That way they can so readily say they forgive their enemies as there is nothing immediate to cause them grief.
I am sure that that is much nearer the truth of the situation.
But the command, the teaching, the guidance of all ‘high’ religions is to do that impossible thing, to indeed love your enemies, to forgive those who hurt you, to turn the other cheek. How difficult that truly, truly is!
But in order to achieve that, in order to even begin to achieve that, there has to be an acceptance of a person’s humanity. It is being human to cry out in despair. It is being human to cry in anguish – to rant and rave, to hit back blindly, to have that ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ if justice is to be done. That is being human, and humanity has to be embraced if there is to be any worthwhile forgiveness.
Where there is denial of those emotions, or if there is a fudging of the issue and seeing denial as a duty, then those words and sometimes actions are nothing more than hypocrisy. And hypocrisy, we are truthfully told, is wrong, is a cause of alienation from the Divine. To use an old fashioned word, it is sin. I would much rather describe hypocrisy as the process by which you cut yourself off from the light and from positive things, however, in the denial there is an alienation, in the pretence – if it is conscious [and hypocrisy is not really consciously done] – there is a stunting of spirituality. It is a move towards the negative. It has no spiritual worth at all.
Honesty is what is required first and foremost. Honesty. And that means embracing all those – apparently – negative emotions of anger and hate – of being human. Then and only then can you do something about it and look deeper within to find something of the Divine that is there within every person. Only then can you begin to appreciate something of your own worth held in the regard of the Divine and so begin to find compassion for those who have caused you hurt; to look to the Light within, the light that lighteth every man, your scriptures say. Only in the anguish and moving through the anguish can you draw something of that light to help you in your pain.
In the balm of light you find that the strength of the Divine inveigles you to see things in a different way. The need for vengeance diminishes and forgiveness becomes a possibility.
So it is in the embracing of your humanity with all its shadow emotions, with all its nastiness, that you also embrace your humanity that enables you to find the Divinity within. Then forgiveness has a worth, it is a means of spiritual growth. The pain is not extinguished. It is always there to some degree but there is also the comfort, strength and love of the Divine which carries you through. Then forgiveness is not a weakness, it is not a denial, neither it is a duty or enabled only by a greater sense of guilt. Then the forgiveness rings true. Then the power of God becomes evident working within you. So, if I may use the Christian terminology, then you move through your crucifixion to your own resurrection.
This is also a means of seeing if your forgiveness is true or not. For as you embrace your pain and anguish, if it is not possible to find that balm, then forgiveness is only words. The anger is at least truly felt and is honest. That is one step towards spiritual growth, even though you may not fully forgive, but it is much better than an empty or hollow sounding word of forgiveness.
That is the power of your humanity.