In the prayer Jesus is said to have prayed from the cross in Luke 23:34, Jesus not only demonstrates the nature of forgiveness, also points the way to that place where forgiveness becomes possible.

In Luke 23: 34, Jesus is reported to have said from the cross,

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

They do not know what they are doing” translates the verb aido. Aido means to see, perceive, experience. It refers to something deeper than merely “to know.” This is not simply about ignorance or lack of understanding.

Jesus’ tormentors are trapped, unable to perceive the deeper truth of life. The are unconscious. They have become disconnected from their true nature. They have lost touch with the beauty that resides at the heart of their being. They are living in the illusion that the meaning of life is found in achieving power, prestige, and privilege. They have become lost in the world of me, mine, and ours.

In the little world of, me, mine and ours, anything that threatens me, mine or ours must be destroyed. Life is divided into those who are with us and those who are our enemies. And our enemies must be stamped out.

There is a violent logic to this world. Those who are trapped in this illusion are unable to see beyond their tiny pinched worldview. But they are not evil. Things they do may be evil. They may cause horrendous pain. But they are not evil. They are deeply deluded and painfully lost.

It is too easy to demonize those who orchestrated Jesus’ crucifixion. But many of them were without doubt well-intentioned. They were motivated by genuine concern for the well-being of their belief system and the safety of their people who were struggling to live under the tyrannical reign of Roman occupation.

The path to forgiveness begins when we see people, not so much as evil and vicious, but as deeply unconscious and profoundly confused. Empathy is the gateway to forgiveness. People are not evil; they are wounded.

We cause hurt because we have been hurt. Hurt people hurt people. When we see the hurt, we begin to let go of our bitterness against those by whom we have been wronged. Our determination that they should suffer for the suffering they have caused begins to ease.

Life is not fair. Pain is transmitted from generation to generation. The damage only begins to end when someone in the chain of misery refuses to pass it on and instead sees that we all share in the wounds of life. Forgiveness begins when I see the pain that lies at the root of all violence and respond to the pain rather than the hurt it has caused.

As Wendell Berry so powerfully points out, forgiveness is the end of enemies:

If you are not to become a monster,
you must care what they think.
If you care what they think,
how will you not hate them,
and so become a monster
of the opposite kind? From where then
is love to come—love for your enemy
that is the way of liberty?
From forgiveness. Forgiven, they go
free of you, and you of them;
they are to you as sunlight
on a green branch. You must not
think of them again, except
as monsters like yourself,
pitiable because unforgiving.
Wendell Berry, “Enemies” from Entries: Poems. Copyright © 1994 by Wendell Berry.  Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc..