The essence of her post is that it’s easier to forgive someone who hasn’t hurt you than someone who has, and she names someone whom she needs to forgive, saying that in God’s eyes, unforgiveness is sinful the same way the sin was that prompted the unforgiveness.
It’s a good point.
But it’s also not my personal experience. I actually find it’s harder for me to forgive those who have hurt others. People who hurt me I can forgive, and I usually do. (There are two people I’m still working on. I’m no longer angry at them, but I’ve had a hard time with it.)
I don’t feel it’s my place to forgive someone who hasn’t hurt me. That’s the job of the wronged party. As a third party, I end up trying to excuse the person, and sometimes that’s impossible.
But what about the situation outlined at Head Over Wheels? Where the offender harmed someone she loves?That’s the toughest situation. It puts you in a bad position: you’re harmed indirectly, so it feels necessary to forgive or at least set aside the anger, and yet you aren’t really in a position to forgive because you weren’t the target of the person’s actions.
Someone who harms my children had better get out of my way. That’s how I feel about the matter, but since I’m not the victim, I’m not sure how it would resolve. Must I forgive if I wasn’t hurt directly? But harboring anger is sinful.
Two years ago, I came up with a little theory of forgiveness. There are two kinds: bilateral and unilateral.
Bilateral forgiveness looks like this:
Jack: Will you forgive me?
Jill: Yes, of course I forgive you.
Unilateral forgiveness looks like this:
Jill: Jack hurt me, and I don’t think he’s even sorry, but in my heart, I forgive him.
Unilateral forgiveness doesn’t involve the forgiven party at all. The forgiven party may never know he’s forgiven; he may never know he harmed you. All that’s necessary is for you to forgive.
What I’m talking about here is unilateral forgiveness. Most often if it’s bilateral, the offender is willing to work with you and is repentant. The tough situations are where the person shows no remorse. And if the person isn’t sorry, why forgive?
Forgiveness frees us from the anger and the burden of carrying old hurts. It’s a gift from God to be able to let go of that kind of burden, and it deserves more than four hundred words in a weblog post. But one of the obstacles to forgiving someone is the idea that if we forgive, we’ve “let him get away with it.”
In most cases, the person already got away with it. We’re not letting him off the hook. (If criminal behavior was involved, the law still should come down on the side of the victim and the criminal pay the penalty.) What we’re doing is letting ourselves off the hook, getting in touch with the brokenenss of the perpetrator, getting in touch with our own, and in renewing our understanding of that person’s humanity, renewing our own humanity.
That said, unilateral forgiveness is tough, and it takes a while. Sometimes it never comes, but in those cases, I have to hope that God takes into account how hard we’ve tried, and how deeply we were wounded that we couldn’t.