“Forgive and forget.” Although it’s a nice idea, the trauma of betrayal or injury (mental, physical, or emotional) isn’t forgettable. It weaves its way into our DNA and can follow us from lifetime to lifetime, causing us to harm ourselves and others.
Which is why forgiveness is so crucial.
But how do you forgive what feels utterly unforgivable?
Let’s take a look at a few cases of radical forgiveness and hear from those who have discovered its healing balm and ability to allow them to move on, often in unison with the offender.
- During WWII, Corrie den Boom, a Dutch Christian, and her family hid Jews who were fleeing from the Nazis. They were eventually caught and sent to a concentration camp. Just days before the camp was liberated, Corrie’s sister died. Later, while Corrie was speaking in a church, one of the men who had been a guard at the concentration camp in which she and her sister were held came up to her, expressed his regret, and asked for her forgiveness. She agonized over what to do next. She felt unable to grant his request under her own strength. So, she asked God for help and found herself suddenly able to shake the man’s hand and verbally forgive him. That wasn’t the end of her forgiveness journey with the man, but it was the beginning of the release of her bitterness and hatred.
- In Rwanda, citizens are living in reconciliation villages where perpetrators and survivors of the 1994 genocide live together as neighbors. This genocide was conducted by neighbors; the killers knew their victims personally. So, although the genocide remains a source of anguish, forgiveness for many in Rwanda looks like coexisting with others, having let go of the desire for revenge or reparations.
- In 2006, a one-room school filled with Amish children was taken hostage by a suicidal gunman. After several terrifying hours, the man bound and shot ten girls, killing five of them, before committing suicide. Within hours, the Amish families forgave him, even visiting his wife and parents to offer comfort; they also attended the killer’s funeral. A grandfather of one of the murdered girls cautioned the family not to hate the killer. Another father said, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul. And now he’s standing before a just God.”