The meaning behind the word forgiveness is forgetting a wrong committed. To many it is an action that requires at least two parties. However, the deeper concept of forgiveness is an act for oneself. In fact, in Buddhism, it is practiced to prevent harmful thoughts of revenge that can over take one’s identity. Also, resentment and anger is a continuous cycle that harms a person’s mental health. Throughout the New Testament, punishment is not man’s responsibility when wronged. God’s followers are called to let go. Grief should lead to forgiveness and comfort, or be “swallowed up with too much sorrow,” (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
This amazing ability to forgive even the most intentional and malicious atrocities is common in Africa. A young Rwandan man honestly and openly shared his horrific story of the 1994 genocide on a walk one evening. Faisal’s father was killed by rebel forces, his mother raped by a solider and given AIDS, which caused her death just a couple of years later. This child, and his two younger siblings, traveled to Uganda as refugees. He used to cry every day and not sleep, until Faisal told Jesus he was no longer going to be sad and instead “begin a new life.” Today, Faisal ministers spiritually to prisoners and provides assistance in attaining representation or health records. The belief that life could be restored is now allowing Faisal to better the lives of men that need the same lesson.
The Torah states that forgiveness is natural, and should be done with a sincere and willing spirit. Still, there is a greater need in the pursuit of forgiveness that is a more difficult, and often abstract, concept. In the meditation on Yom Kippur, as well as the Lord’s Prayer from the Sermon on the Mount, the reciter asks God for absolution right before stating forgiveness for any wrongs done to him or herself. You must acknowledge personal offenses and seek mercy. It is not until after this measure that you are capable of forgiving others.
In the village of Ogongora, a small choral group stood in barn-style church. Closing my eyes, I heard the harps and the harmonizing of the chamber choir as they sang in English unto the Lord. Behind them, on a chalkboard, the lyrics were scrolled. “I was a killer, but He saved me. I was a prostitute, but now I have new life.” This generation of singers had been the victims of LRA kidnappings that forced them to be child soldiers and sex slaves. After escaping, they have so many horrors to reconcile. Uganda is a place that is honest about turmoil. But it is their joy about redemption that allows celebration in a way that embraces a unique way of life, including the traditional drum band and dancers.
The Oxford Dictionary defines forgiveness as “to grant free pardon.” That seems too formal. It should be looked at as a personal measure of strength and dignity. There are psychologists that say forgiveness is a process involving many steps. I disagree; the design of forgiveness is ceasing any further demands. It is the motive, act, and result all in one.