”Forgiving is love’s revolution against life’s unfairness. When we forgive, we ignore the normal laws that strap us to the natural law of getting even and, by the alchemy of love, we release ourselves from our own painful pasts,” writes Lewis B. Smedes, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. In a relaxed and accessible writing style, he lays out the most important dimensions of this thorny subject that looms so large in our private and public lives. We may talk about turning the other cheek and forgiving those who have wronged us, but it is not a simple thing to do. The problem usually lies within the whirling tornado of emotions that are at the center of this act. Or as the author puts it, “It is the hardest trick in the bag of personal relationships.”
Smedes introduces the four stages in the process of forgiveness beginning with the hurt that precipitates the crisis and causes us pain that will not go away. The second stage is hate when all our feelings of anger and righteous indignation come to the surface. The third stage is healing; “you are given the ‘magic eyes’ to see the person who hurt you in a new light. Your memory is healed, you turn back the flow of pain and are free again.” The fourth stage is the coming together where you affect a reconciliation and invite the person back into your life. The major healing takes place within us thanks to the love and freedom that blooms in us.
It is important not to confuse forgiveness with other similar acts. According to the author, it is not excusing, smothering conflict, accepting people, or tolerance. “When you forgive the person who hurt you deeply and unfairly, you perform a miracle that has no equal. Nothing else is the same. Forgiving has its own feel and its own color and its own climax, different from any other creative act in the repertoire of human relationships.” Smedes covers many different shades of forgiveness with chapters on invisible people who cause widespread violence and suffering, people who do not care, monsters, God, and ourselves. The author believes that it is best to practice forgiveness a little at a time: “Ordinary people forgive best if they go at it in bits and pieces, and for specific acts. They bog down if they try to forgive people in the grand manner, because wholesale forgiving is almost always fake. Forgiving anything at all is a minor miracle; forgiving carte blanche is silly. Nobody can do it. Except God. And the first rule for mere human beings in the forgiving game is to remember that we are not God.”
Smedes has written a profoundly practical book on forgiveness. You will find yourself returning again and again to his suggestions for practicing this healing art in your daily life.