This is an important question precisely because many people hold onto at least a residual of anger when they recall deep injustices against them. Having some anger left over after you forgive is normal and not a sign of unforgiveness—-if—if the anger is not so intense that it is dominating your life. Is your anger controlling you or are you in control of your anger? If the latter, then take heart, you are probably on the road to forgiveness, especially if you have committed to “do no harm” back to the one who hurt you.
Some of the best wisdom I have heard regarding when a person has truly forgiven comes from the late-great Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget. He says that if you wish the other well, then you have forgiven. As a point of clarification, you need not wish the person well as your boss now or as your boyfriend now if reconciliation is not possible. As you wish the other well as a person, you have entered into the spirit of forgiveness.
With mid-morning temperatures approaching 86° on Palm Sunday in April 2017, the security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt, approached and redirected a young man rushing for the church’s main entrance. Seconds later, the bomb strapped to the man’s body detonated, killing both him and the guard while dozens inside the church were spared harm by the guard’s quick actions.
Just days later, after the bomber had been identified as an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorist, the widow of that security guard was interviewed by an Egyptian television station. As she pulled her young children close to her side she announced:
“I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’
“You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.”
While millions of Egyptians across the country marveled at what the grieving woman said, it was far from the first time in recent history that Coptic Christians have expressed forgiveness rather than revenge.
A 2011 New Year’s Eve attack in Alexandria’s Church of Two Saints killed 23 Coptics, for example. In February 2015, the Islamic State in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 mostly Coptic Christians on the shores of Tripoli.
A December 2016 attack at a chapel of the flagship St. Mark’s cathedral in Cairo killed 29 mostly women and children–the deadliest terrorism attack against Egyptian Christians until attacks at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta killed more than 45 people and injured more than 100 others during Palm Sunday services in 2017.
But even in death, the Copts forgive. While Egypt’s president pledged retaliation following those tragedies, Coptic Christians continued to spread their message of forgiveness and love. .
On the night of the Palm Sunday bombings, for example, Coptic priest Fr. Boules George said he thanks and loves those who did this crime. Speaking to a congregation in Cairo’s Cleopatra neighborhood, he first addressed the terrorists and said:
“I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is.”But then he asked those in the church, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them? If they know that God is love and they experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”
(Watch Fr. George’s entire sermon including his explanation of why he thanks the terrorists, at this video link with subtitles.)
The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient churches in the world, founded in the first century in Egypt by Saint Mark the Apostle during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. A conservative Church that shares many beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, it has carefully preserved the Orthodox Christian faith in its earliest form. Today the Church has 18-22 million members worldwide with more than 75% of them in Egypt–the country’s largest Christian denomination.
This article was inspired by a blog post titled “The Scandal of Forgiveness in a Time of Terror” by R. H. (Rusty) Foerger on his website More Enigma Than Dogma.In his post, Foerger asks if forgiveness is ever wasted. He answers his own question with this: “On the surface I suppose forgiveness is a losing game; so is terrorism and retaliation. But go deeper and you will find forgiveness comes from a endless well – available for an ocean of need.”
False forgiveness in essence is not about a moral response to someone who has hurt you. It is more about power than leveling the moral playing field (seeing the other and the self as precious, unique, special, and irreplaceable). There are two kinds of power-plays that someone practicing false forgiveness might show: 1) dominating the other person by constantly reminding him or her that, indeed, you have forgiven….and plan to do so tomorrow…and the next day…and the day after that. You keep the other under your thumb by reminding them of how noble you are and how ignoble they are; 2) being dominated by the other person by giving in to unreasonable demands, hastily reconciling, letting the other have power over you. True forgiveness is gentle and kind, honoring the humanity of the other person and the self. It does not dominate or allow others to dominate in a relationship.
Trust is not a necessary condition to forgive. As a moral virtue, forgiveness is: a) a conscious awareness that one is trying to be good to the one who was not good to you; b) a softening of emotions from deep anger to compassion, and c) actions that express kindness, respect, generosity, and love toward an offending other(s). This does not necessarily mean that the kindness occurs directly toward the other because reconciliation and forgiveness differ. You can say a kind word to others about the offending person without being in direct contact with the one who offended you, if the other’s behavior is dangerous for you. Forgiveness is unconditional (occurring whenever the forgiver chooses) whereas trust is earned as offending persons show, by genuine remorse and repentance, that they have changed their hurtful behavior. You can forgive and wait on the issue of trust.
We have forgiveness education curriculum guides here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.for children age 4 all the way up to adolescents ages 17 to 18. We help children and adolescents first understand forgiveness through stories, which are part of these curricula. You might consider once a week having a “Forgiveness Hour” in which you use the lessons from our curriculum guides. You also might consider even a 15 minute Family Forgiveness Forum once a week in which you discuss your own themes of forgiveness that week: How you are working on forgiving, what you are doing concretely to forgive, and how this is going for you.
It seems in this circumstance that you would be better off talking with him about your impression of his insincerity. This does not mean that you do so right then, when you were very upset. His lack of sincerity could be another event in which you need to forgive him. Your first working on forgiveness may make your conversation about his insincerity more civil and more productive. If you confronted him when you were very upset, without your first starting the forgiveness process, then this possibly could deepen the original argument.
The answer depends on the person’s reason for not reconciling. If the one who offended is sorry for the wrongdoing and is making sincere attempts to change, then this can make reconciliation a definite possibility. If the forgiver refuses to even consider reconciliation at this point, and if the forgiver still is showing deep anger, then it is possible that the forgiveness is either at a very early stage or is not genuine. On the other hand, if the one who engaged in the wrongdoing remains unrepentant and refuses to change the behavior, the forgiver still can forgiver deeply from the heart and not reconcile because it could be unhealthy or even dangerous, depending on how hurtful the injustice is.