The process of forgiveness is the process of letting go.

One of the Greek words in the New Testament commonly translated as “forgive” is aphiemi. It appears in the debated verse Luke 23:34 in the prayer Jesus is reported to have prayed from the cross saying,

‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

Whether or not this sentence appeared in the original manuscript  of Luke’s Gospel, and whether or not Jesus actually spoke these words, they capture the essence of much of his teaching.

To “forgive” means, ” to let go.”

On the cross Jesus’ wounds were real but his hands were empty. Nothing can remove the remove the pain of betrayal, injustice, and torture Jesus suffered. Forgiveness is not about letting go of pain.

Pain is not our enemy. It is not  pain that destroys us but our resistance to pain.

Often people in pain speak of trying to find closure. There is no closure in the face of the cross.There are evils and injustices to which there is never any satisfactory tidy conclusion. Some things just remain permanent wounds. There is pain we do not get past. Sometimes we do not just “get over it.”

Confronted by the unrelenting horror of the Holocaust of six million Jews and five million Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sinti and Roma peoples, homosexuals, people with disabilities, resisters to the Nazis, conscientious objectors, clergy, and others, any talk of closure is an insult. To speak of closure in the face of the world’s tragedies and the wrongs inflicted on so many individuals, is to trivialize the horror and diminish the wrong that has been done.

Some pain never goes away and should never go away.  To forgive does not mean living free of pain. In this timebound temporal material realm there is no such thing as life without pain. Betrayal, failure, loss, and grief are written into the human equation and they always hurt. It is never healthy to belittle, diminish, deny, or ignore the reality of pain.

But pain does not need to destroy us. Pain can be our friend.

Pain can be the means whereby some of the rough edges of personality are rubbed off. It can break open our heart to the deeper love and strength that are our true nature. Pain can be the path to compassion.

Birth comes through pain. Beauty, truth, wisdom, and empathy are the offspring of suffering we accept and embrace. When we deny, resist, or attempt to avoid in any way the inevitable pain of life, we condemn ourselves to living at a more superficial level of being.

Forgiveness takes us deeper into the well-springs of life; it puts us in touch with a vast realm of wisdom, beauty, and strength that remains closed when we refuse to let go.

To forgive means letting go of our resistance to pain. When we forgive, we let go of our determination that life should be fair or even just. We give up revenge. We stop keeping accounts as if life were a mathematical equation and the ledger should always balance. We surrender the need to make sense of life or to find satisfactory answers.

Forgiveness liberates us, not from pain, but from the dysfunction pain inflicts when we refuse its therapeutic work. Forgiveness means coming out from the fortress of resentment, bitterness, and anger. It means open arms and empty hands.

But how do I get there? How do I lay down my anger, resentment and bitterness against the person by whom I have been wronged? The second half of Luke 23:34 points the way:

‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

See Forgiveness #3 to follow.


As I was pondering this idea of bearing the pain of life, a facebook friend posted this poem by Gwen Flowers, that beautifully articulates the challenge to allow the pain of life to do its work in our lives:


I had my own notion of grief.
I thought it was the sad time
That followed the death of someone you love.
And you had to push through it
To get to the other side.
But I’m learning there is no other side.
There is no pushing through.
But rather,
There is absorption.
And grief is not something you complete,
But rather, you endure.
Grief is not a task to finish
And move on,
But an element of yourself-
An alteration of your being.
A new way of seeing.
A new definition of self.