A scene in a movie caught my attention recently. A man had been permanently maimed in a senseless act of violence. With his wife, he had come to sit down, face to face, with his attacker. A psychologist working with him had initiated this meeting to work toward reconciliation and healing for both the victim and the attacker. Both were haunted by what had happened for their own reasons, so both had agreed to participate.
The first questions on the victim's heart were expected ones. He asked his attacker, "Why me? Why was I singled out?” Shame seeped through these questions. Is there something about me that would make you do this? The attacker simply said, "No, man, it wasn't about you." With encouragement from the psychologist, the guilty man continued on to say what he had come to say, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"
The man and his wife arose out of their chairs.
"Not today." And they left.
I don't think anyone who was watching blamed this man for walking out. I don’t think anyone wondered why he withheld his forgiveness. We all understand that forgiving such a heinous crime—especially when the victim was altogether innocent—seems almost impossible. But is it?
If this man was your friend, or came to you for counsel, would helping him forgive his attacker be a priority? If he did forgive him, what would that even mean and what would it look like to live out that forgiveness? Is forgiveness even important if he can somehow just move on with his life?
These are difficult questions. The complexities of situations that come along as we live in a broken world with broken people make them more difficult still. Yet, as Christians, we must wrestle with them because God has clearly communicated to his people that he wants us to freely forgive others. In the latest issue of CCEF’s Journal of Biblical Counseling, Aaron Sironi helps bring some clarity to this topic. He thoroughly establishes why it is so important for us to understand and heed God’s call to forgive, while he debunks many of the misconceptions people have about it.
It seemed that the man in the movie believed the myth that if he forgave his attacker then he would also have to immediately “get over” the grief he felt over what he had lost. He couldn’t imagine not being grieved—he was still in a raw place over how his life had changed—so he didn’t forgive. Many of us have similar misunderstandings when we are in the position of granting forgiveness. We need to remedy that. Aaron Sironi’s article can help.
Lauren Whitman is a content curator at CCEF. Lauren is also a counselor and an editor for the Journal of Biblical Counseling.