How can someone forgive when the injury is insurmountable?
Why should we forgive?
Answer: Forgiveness has
profound implications both for the individual’s happiness and the
well-being of society. But I shall respond first to the phrase “when
the injury is insurmountable.” Let us for a moment imagine the
unthinkable: an assailant has murdered your child. Although this
grievous crime would seem insurmountable, on occasion parents have
indeed forgiven such a murderer. In 1983 Pope John Paul II entered the
jail cell of Mehmet Ali Agca who had attempted to assassinate him for
the express purpose of granting him forgiveness. What seems impossible
for one person may indeed be possible for another.
Sound psycho-spiritual reasons exist for granting forgiveness. The
unwillingness to forgive will result in its destructive polar
opposites: hatred, vengeance, bitterness, acute pain, and spiritual
immobility. These negative states of mind hold the potential power to
possess our soul. Forgiveness grants freedom, not only to the
perpetrator but also to the victim. Think of the societal consequences
of the failure to forgive. For family or gang violence, tribal
conflicts, civil wars, ethnic strife, warfare between religious and
political groups, vengeance and vendetta simply perpetuate the vicious
cycle. Forgiveness, one of the highest expressions of love, will help
But this does not mean that individuals or nations should submit to
naked aggression. Here we must make an important distinction:
forgiveness by the individual should not be confused with society’s
right to protect itself and to punish criminals. If all crimes were
forgiven, the very foundations of society would crumble. Crimes cannot
be forgiven by the state. But the purpose of the punishment of
criminals is not vengeance, but rather the protection of society.
Justice is not vengeance. Justice helps to restore order in society;
forgiveness sets individuals free.
We also have the strange and deplorable phenomenon of those individuals
who are able to forgive others but not themselves. Self-forgiveness is
as necessary as loving-kindness and compassion for others. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
counselled “…that if a person falls into errors for a hundred-thousand
times he may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive
his sins; for he must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor