Myths about Forgiveness

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

September 17, 2023

Matthew 18:21-35

There are three myths about forgiveness that we often hear. Here, we try to debunk these myths and go deeper into the meanings of genuine forgiveness. 

To forgive is to forget.

This is the most repeated line about forgiveness. We are told that the best way to forgive is to forget about the events that hurt us as well as the persons who offended us. Yet, this is not forgiveness but rather a convenient escape. In fact, the more we try to forget it, the more it hurts us. Violent efforts to suppress our painful memories lead to mental and spiritual problems. True forgiveness is to face and embrace our painful memories and confront people who have hurt us. The path to forgiveness often takes months and even years to find true peace.

To forgive is for the weak people.

Nothing is far from the truth than this statement. Our natural feelings when we are wronged are anger, hatred, and bitterness; because of these feelings, our natural tendency is to take revenge or run away. The bigger the pain, the more powerful is the tendency. This is why to do the opposite (to forgive) needs an enormous force of mind and courage of will. To forgive is only for the strong. Another point is that we need to distinguish between revenge and justice. While revenge seeks to destroy our enemies by inflicting the most extensive damage possible, justice is ‘to give/receive one’s due.’ Justice seeks reparation, repentance, and reconciliation.

To forgive is stupid.

The usual imagination when we forgive is that we allow people to keep abusing us. In short, we become ‘doormat’ of others. Yet, this is not true forgiveness but cowardice. Real forgiveness starts with justice and courage. Forgiveness also includes repentance of those who harm us. Repentance may come in different forms. The best example will be the case of John Paul II and Ali Acka. The Holy Pope forgave Ali, but Ali still needed to serve his sentence in prison. People who hurt us sometimes refuse to change their behaviors, so we must raise the victim’s mentality and not allow ourselves to be abused repeatedly. 

To err is human, but to forgive is divine.

The last part is not a myth but the truth. Humanly speaking, forgiving is extremely difficult because our natural tendency is to take revenge or run away. Thus, we need the help of grace to rise above our human weakness. We remember that “God has forgiven us and that is why we forgive.” Therefore, living in grace is necessary for forgiveness. We ask for graces through our regular participation in the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. We ask the Lord also for strength in our prayers, as well as we pray for those who hurt us for their repentance. To seek support and advice from our trusted friends and capable professionals is also crucial because God may make them His instruments in helping us. 

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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