Four hundred ninety

Denisa Selagea – “Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge” – Jerome Isaac Friedman.
We carry fragments of time in our hearts, memories of the past, which dry up in the breeze of past emotions. Sometimes we leaf through them, after the children have gone to bed, reliving with the soul the places and faces of that time. Some are rough, others are delicate and fine, woven with love. Sometimes we go too deep, breaking our hearts into bits of regret, sharpened by pain and problems.

No matter how many years we wrap them up, their limit runs through the past and the present, cutting our thoughts once again, robbing us of kindness, leaving us deprived of goodness and beauty. Only forgiveness can glue our pieces together again, making us whole again and able to love once again without regrets and without holding back anything.

Forgiveness has become an almost archaic virtue which, when it reaches us, is reduced to an expression of helplessness or exasperation: “I have forgiven you once, twice, but that’s enough”. Using excuses, we create all kinds of definitions to adapt to our own needs.

Some psychologists argue that forgiveness involves a willingness to give up one’s right to resentment, judgment, and negative attitude towards an offender, while promoting the undeserved qualities of compassion, empathy, and goodwill towards one’s offender.[1]

In practice, however, forgiveness comes in an infinite number of shades. In the second part of his book The Sunflower on the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness [in italiano Il girasole. I limiti del perdono, Garzanti 2000]Simon Wiesenthal presents dozens of definitions of forgiveness in the context of the Holocaust, from various spiritual perspectives.

From a more positive point of view, Theodore Hesburgh, a Catholic priest and educator, said he “would have forgiven anyone if he had asked, because God forgives.” The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist spiritual leader, replied that he “would forgive but not forget the atrocities committed.” Dennis Prager, who defines himself as a religious Jew, said that “the sin of murder could never be forgiven because the only person who could forgive is no longer alive”.

At the other extreme, Sidney Shachnow, one of the Holocaust survivors, completely refuses to forgive SS officers, arguing that some atrocities cannot be forgiven in any way.[2]

What follows from these perspectives is that forgiveness can also be defined by what it does not do: it does not erase the hurt or pain caused; it does not justify, but on the contrary names evil and asks those who committed it to bear the consequences of their action. Especially in cases of abuse, forgiveness must never seal a reconciliation that leads to the perpetuation of the original evil.

The psychologist Everett Worthington sees Nazi atrocities from a different perspective. In one of his many books on forgiveness he presents the reaction of Yehiel Dinur, also a Holocaust survivor, who witnessed the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Face to face with Eichmann, Dinur saw himself and all of humanity behind him. He saw evil harboring in each of us, ready to take control of our being, if circumstances permit. “Eichmann is in each of us,” Dinur says, horrified. The moral distance between us and the monsters that haunt us could be much smaller than we imagined. This understanding can make forgiveness easier to bear.

“Beware that when you fight monsters, you yourself do not become a monster” – Friederich Nietzsche

The monstrosity of evil is contagious. The German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche warned us of the danger of approaching evil by following it closely in our thoughts and actions. He can turn us into monsters at any time. Likewise, the apostle Paul assures us that the pursuit of good is also contagious. Looking at God, we are reshaped in the image of him. Seeing the glory of the Lord, we “are transformed into his image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Jacob struggled with God and God allowed him to get a better and more heavenly character (Genesis 32).

The touch of evil and the effects of the transformation it produces are extremely costly. They cost us our peace, love, mercy, a sense of security, family and friendships and, last but not least, faith in a better and more just world.[3]

Touching God and transforming into his image is a regenerating process. We begin by emptying our souls of anxieties and depressions, fears and anger.

Jesus forgives everyone, seventy-seven times [cioè ogni volta che glielo chiediamo, ndr], and then it fills our bags with faith, optimism and self-control. It heals us from the nightmares of the past and strengthens the days that remain in a stronger and more vigorous body. And that’s not all. The healing that brings forgiveness will also extend to those who have wronged us. According to writer Jean Hampton, forgiveness offered to a wrongdoer can separate evil from those who do it, having the power to heal their rebellion against good and soften their hardened hearts.[4]

“To err is human, to forgive is divine” – Alexander Pope.

On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV went to a small school in the town of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, and shot ten Amish girls, all between the ages of 6 and 13, in the head before committing suicide. An inexplicable and unexpected act. The world was shocked by the contrast between the pastoral image of the Amish Christian community and the gratuitous violence of the incident.

Beyond the darkness of the tragedy, however, the Amish community managed to rise above the “ground”, and offered forgiveness to the murderer and his family, a few hours after the macabre event. Forgiveness was initially expressed in warm words and close hugs which then turned into facts: Amish families attended the killer’s funeral in large numbers and later offered financial support to widow Roberts and her three children. left orphans.

Many have marveled at the Amish’s ability to forgive, even as over two billion people learn about forgiveness from the Christian scriptures themselves. Unfortunately, for many Christians, the offer of forgiveness has conditions, demands and is inconstant. Today it is extended, tomorrow withdrawn.

The members of the Amish community have forgiven without thinking too much, without consulting each other. They forgave because that is what they were taught from childhood, when they memorized “… and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12). They forgave in order to be forgiven in turn. For them, forgiveness was the first step towards healing.

Journalists wondered if their forgiveness was genuine, wise enough and permanent, but above all healthy, given the ease and speed with which it was offered. The explanation lies in the moral repertoire of the Amish. Among them, tragedies are accepted without question or doubt, because they know that beyond the tragedies there is a loving God.

The misfortunes suffered are permitted by God with the promise of a future rich in fruit in the soul of the faithful. Final justice belongs only to him. Therefore, tragedies can only be understood through forgiveness. In the Amish community the forgiveness that is offered brings them closer to heaven, heals them from the world and reconciles them to God.[5]

Amish families had forgiven then, and they still forgive today, because forgiveness never ends. Everett Worthington divides forgiveness into two timelines. The first, short-term or immediate forgiveness, is the decision not to take revenge on the wrongdoer. The decision to forgive leads, over time, to small and clumsy actions at first, such as a simple smile or a warm look. However, these small gestures, practiced repeatedly, will grow, transforming over time into a handshake, a phone call, a meeting, so as to give rise, in the end, to positive emotions towards those who have hurt us. This last stage is emotional forgiveness which can take years to settle down and lasts for the rest of your life.[6]

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet spreads on the heel that crushed it” – Mark Twain.

The soul crushed by evil will forever be stained with tears. However, each of us chooses how to remember what we cannot forget: getting closer to heaven, forgiving; or crawl around the world, taking our misdeeds with us. Jesus is beside us, ready to teach us to count forgiveness. First out loud, then to ourselves. Once, twice, three times…, until we learn to go beyond four hundred and ninety times (cf. Matthew 18:22).

Denisa Selagea confesses that she is still learning to count two- and three-digit forgiveness, even though she was a math teacher during her college years. This is because this type of counting cannot be learned from textbooks, but is experienced, page after page, for life.

[1] Robert D. Enright, S. Freedman and J. Rique, “The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness”, in Robert D. Enright and Joanna North (ed.), Exploring Forgiveness, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, 1998, pp . 46–62.
[2] S. WiesenthalThe Sunflower: On the Possibilites and Limits of Forgiveness, Schocken Books, New York, NY, 1997.
[3] EL Worthington Jr., The Path to Forgiveness: Six Practical Sections for Becoming a More Forgiving Person, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, 2011, p. 41.
[4] JG Murphy and J. Hampton, Forgiveness and Mercy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 86–87.
[5] DB Kraybill, SM Nolt and D. Weaver-ZercherAmish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended TragedyJossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2007.
[6] Worthington, Jr., Op. Cit., pp. 28, 37.

[Fonte: Traduzione: V. Addazio]

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