This post is written by Andrew Marin, President and Founder of The Marin Foundation
Within the process of reconciliation there is a difference between forgetting and forgiving. When harm is done to someone, most of the time, and depending on the severity, they just want to forget that event(s) ever happened and move on with their life.
As Freud famously suggested, memories of such harm can be repressed, only sparked to live again through an emotional stimuli. Neuropsychologically, research suggests that Freud was on to something. Researchers from Central Michigan University, Brandon University, and the Tokyo University of Social Welfare found that even the most traumatic of memories can be stored in the background of one’s memory, to the point of being forgotten, only to be forcefully shoved to the forefront through similar external emotional stimuli, or internal cognitive reactions. Thus, no matter how much we might try to forget the greatest wrongs committed against us, it is a physiological impossibility. That is fact.
Since one can ultimately never forget the greatest of trauma committed against them, the important question is: How does one come to grips with a time of horror that irrevocably shapes them, no matter how much they long to reverse time an avoid it all?
The answer is forgiving.
We hear it in a variety of situations—some perpetrator altered a victim’s reality for all time, and against all odds the victim ends up in a news story writing and visiting the perpetrator in prison, sending them care packages, and showing them the love they, to all humanly accounts, do not deserve.
Why is this news worthy? Because it happens so infrequently. And we then wonder why contemporary society is trapped spiraling downward into more hate, dissent, wars, and enmity? It’s because as a people, we have forgotten how to forgive.
We hear it all the time, “I’m at peace with what happened.” The mistake is to interpret such a statement as “forgetting;” or, that one has “given up and resined themselves to their current reality.” The interesting theological implications to this peace-in-trauma, is that its impetus does not have to be based in faith. Yet even more so, those of faith have a demand to live in such a state. MLK Jr. calls this choosing to live a lifestyle of forgiveness.
And unless one constantly works toward forgiveness with a lens filtered through an ultimate will to forgive, they will always be haunted by the thing(s) that define them the most, but can never forget.
So how does one forgive? There are no easy answers other than time and intentionality to live with a hope of one day practicing forgiveness.
The Crucified gave us a model of forgiveness that took him to death on a cross. He showed the utmost commitment to the perpetrators of sin [see: not just the decision makers that ruled such a death, but all of humanity's daily rebellion against living in a state of unconditional love and grace]. Unless we are willing to go that far with our journey of forgiveness—go to such lengths of solidarity with our perpetrators—their actions of emotional, political, religious, psychological, or physical violence will always inhabit the needed space in our minds for what we need most to live at peace.
One cannot forgive when they are constantly trying to forget.