Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt but

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Forgiveness must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection. It is the only way to stop the spread of the evil. When I counsel forgiveness to people who have been harmed, they often ask about the wrongdoers, “Shouldn’t they be held accountable?” I usually respond, “Yes, but only if you forgive them.” There are many good reasons that we should want to confront wrongdoers. Wrongdoers have inflicted damage and, as in the example of the gate I presented earlier, it costs something to fix the damage. We should confront wrongdoers—to wake them up to their real character, to move them to repair their relationships, or to at least constrain them and protect others from being harmed by them in the future. Notice, however, that all those reasons for confrontation are reasons of love. The best way to love
them and the other potential victims around them is to confront them in the hope that they will repent, change, and make things right. The desire for vengeance, however, is motivated not by goodwill but by ill will. You may say, “I just want to hold them accountable,” but your real motivation may be simply to see them hurt. If you are not confronting them for their sake or for society’s sake but for your own sake, just for payback, the chance of the wrongdoer ever coming to repentance is virtually nil. In such a case you, the confronter, will overreach, seeking not justice but revenge, not their change but their pain. Your demands will be excessive and your attitude abusive. He or she will rightly see the confrontation as intended simply to cause hurt. A cycle of retaliation will begin. Only if you first seek inner forgiveness will your confrontation be temperate, wise, and gracious. Only when you have lost the need to see the other person hurt will you have any chance of actually bringing about change, reconciliation, and healing. You have to submit to the costly suffering and death of forgiveness if there is going to be any resurrection. No one embodied the costliness of forgiveness any better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose story I recounted in Chapter 4. 2 After Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to resist Hitler, he wrote in The Cost of Discipleship (1937) that true forgiveness is always a form of suffering. My brother’s burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share…. Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear. 3 In April 1943 Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned. He was eventually moved to Flossenburg concentration camp and executed just before the end of World War II.

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