Commentary: Forgiving: the survivors’ dilemma

Getting angry is human, forgiveness is divine. It is human to feel offended; however, how we respond to the feelings of anger makes a difference.

Getting angry is human, forgiveness is divine. It is human to feel offended; however, how we respond to the feelings of anger makes a difference.

Apostle Paul advised Christians at Ephesus thus, “‘be angry, and don’t sin.’ Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 NKJV) .We can choose to forgive or take revenge (send back the pain). 

Many people who hurt others are hurting themselves and want to spread the pain. Forgiveness is to evil done to us, what shelter is to rainfall. When we forgive, we protect ourselves from anger and pain thrown at us.

Getting angry is a physiological and psychological impulse; even animals get “angry”. When we continually get angry, irritable and aggressive behaviours we set off chains of chemical reactions inside our bodies that do not bode well for our health.

Evidence has shown chronically angry raise exhibit high concentration of stress hormones that increase the risk of deadly diseases as much by as five times as other people.

Diseases such hypertension (high blood pressure), ulcers, weaker Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS- part of the body’s nervous system that functions to calm down people and therefore  less strain on the  heart and other body organs), weaker nervous system, antisocial behaviour, unpredictable emotions and possible depression.

Putting themselves in the shoes of the people they are angry with becomes excruciating for people who are angry. People who do not forgive are angry people and in addition to what they suffered, they carry the daily burden of the anger that has pooled inside them.

 Archbishop Desmond Tutu argued that, “to forgive is the best form of self-interest since anger, resentment and revenge are corrosive of that ‘summum bonum’, the greatest good”.

When we forgive, it does not mean that we have forgotten; it means we have released ourselves from the control of what has happened to us in the past, so that we can determine our future. John Kennedy put it this way, “forgive your enemies, but never forget their names”.

Forgiveness does not only benefit the forgiven, it frees the forgiver. It is a gift to oneself so that he/she can regain the lost peace of mind, esteem, pride and ultimately the future.

William Shakespeare put it this way, “do as the heavens have done, forget your evil; with them forgive yourself”.
Forgiveness does not mean that you accept what the forgiven did.

It does not mean that you erase or change what happened, it is accepting what happened assessing what you can change and letting go of what you cannot change.

According to Alexa Young, “forgiveness is the release of all hope a better past”. Many times we refuse to forgive hoping to transfer the pain we feel towards people who hurt us, yet we hurt ourselves even the more by nursing the pain we feel day in day out.

The people who caused the pain may not know or remember that they hurt us. We need to remember that the Holy Scriptures tell readers not to forgive their friends but enemies; in the process of forgiving our enemies we serve our interests.

Forgiveness should not be dishonesty to ourselves because dishonesty does not free us. Forging is not forgetting what happened or lessening its gravity.  If we are hurting, it means we have not forgiven or let go.

According to Mahatma Gandhi, ‘forgiving is choosing to love. It is the first skill of self-loving. The weak cannot forgive. Forgiving is the attribute’.

When we truly forgive, we free ourselves from continued anger and pain. If we have forgiven we are set free from judging how well others should have treated us and what we might have done.

As we judge and blame others we also judge ourselves for doing what we did or should have done. By forgiving others, we should also forgive ourselves.
Forgiving, therefore, is a personal decision after accepting what happened and deciding to move on.

No person should be cajoled or threatened into forgiving; it should be from the bottom of the person’s heart. Many church leaders are threatening survivors of the genocide in Rwanda to forgive mass killers lest they miss heaven and gnash their teeth in hellfire eternally. 

People should instead be told the benefits that accrue to those that forgive, helped to understand the extent to which they influence the future and the futility of suffering over what happened in the past.

Thereafter they can make an informed choice to forgive. There have been campaigns to cajole victims to “face” their tormentors and forgive them in exchange for iron sheets and bicycles.

I believe this is hypocrisy and that such forgiveness does not reach the heart.
Criminals who have accepted their evil deeds and ask for forgiveness over their brutality to innocent people in 1994 may be forgiven if the forgiver has reached the stage of forgiving.

People can forgive as their conscience tells them; those who are not yet ready to forgive should have the right to feel angry. As Lord Chesterfield once put it, “wrongs are often forgiven, but contempt never is.

Our pride remembers it forever”. Do killers who stuffed objects in private parts of the victims, chopped off others’ genitals or dismembered others and left them to die slow painful deaths deserve forgiveness?  

Consider killers who killed people and to date have refused to identify pit latrines and wherever they dumped their bodies; do such criminals deserve unconditional forgiveness?

Do baby killers who slaughtered other peoples’ babies, took theirs to Zaire and today still insist they did not kill anyone deserve forgiveness?  Do killers, comfortable in Europe and the Americas, who insist there was no genocide deserve forgiveness?

Those people who have reached the stage of forgiving criminals who carried out the genocide in Rwanda should be encouraged to go ahead and forgive so they are set free, those who feel angry and do not want to forgive should be told the benefits of forgiving and if they still want to remain angry they should be left alone.

Many people only know what it is to lose a loved one and can only imagine what it is to lose a family (in the African, Rwanda sense).

Do not cajole people to forgive. Do not threaten survivors to forgive.