Forgiveness is Not for the Forgiven, but for the Forgiver

I really liked Mallory Ortberg and Carvell Wallace’s commentary “You’re Not Off The Hook: The White Myth of Black Forgiveness.”

I really appreciated someone speaking about this right now. As we read about the ways in which families of the Charleston massacre victims are forgiving the white supremacist murderer who took their loved ones’ lives, it seems to me that there is some confusion of forgiveness with absolution. In this humorous interview, the differences between those concepts are spelled out and the pernicious re-interpretation of the concept of forgiveness as absolution are called out. Forgiveness is not absolution. Forgiveness doesn’t make this whole thing nice. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we stop fighting with all our might to stop this from ever happening again. Forgiveness is not for the forgiven, but for the forgiver.

Forgiveness is for the soul of the person doing the forgiving. It is not an absolution of the person who has done you wrong, by, for example, massacring people you love. Forgiveness is an act that allows a person to free their heart from some degree of rancor towards the one that did them harm so that they can set about focusing on the grief and the healing that is necessary and do whatever work they may want to do to make sure that this never happens again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean, ‘That’s okay. You can even do it again. I don’t mind.’ It more means, ‘I’m going to choose not to hate you, because I have to carry my hating you around inside myself and my hating you hurts me more than it hurts you and I don’t want to have to hurt like that inside myself while I’m dealing with the carnage you have created.’

As they say here, we must “forgive and fight at the same time.”