The Archbishop of Canterbury offers his lesson for 2019by Justin Welby / December 7, 2018 / Leave a comment
We need to learn to forgive. Especially we need to learn to forgive those who have the temerity, even the abusive intransigence, to disagree with us on something where we think we are right. That appears today to be a mortal sin.
Disagreement should be a matter of debate, of rational examination of different views, even of passionate and robust argument. But it should not be a cause of hatred, the incitement of violence, and the denigration of the humanity of the other person.
Yet, that is where we seem to have got to. Forgiveness is the process by which we recognise guilt, and yet release it. A few years ago, I heard a debate on the radio about whether it was even necessary to consider forgiveness as a virtue. It was argued that we should simply let things pass us by. That the stoic approach—which keeps us at a certain emotional distance from the abuses, sufferings and challenges of the world—is the approach that we should take instead. Forgiveness implies emotion, anger, and even the concept of sin. (Please excuse me mentioning sin, but I am the Archbishop of Canterbury.)
Forgiveness accepts that harm has been done and that harm cannot be ignored; for ignoring it opens the door to impunity and injustice. I spend a great deal of my time in places where the absence of forgiveness leads to an ever-more destructive cycle of retribution, hatred and vendetta. Yet I also see, in some of these places, the capacity of those who have suffered more than I can begin to imagine, to forgive.
“Disagreement should be a matter of debate; it should not be a cause of hatred and the denigration of the humanity of the other person”
Forgiveness breaks the cycle of violence, and the descent of our natures into that pit of self-justification and contempt for others that in the end makes us regard them as less than human. When that happens, it permits us to take any action, or make any statement, that fulfils the rage within us.
Forgiveness sets us free and sets the offender free. It cuts the chains that impede the move to reconciliation, and with the cutting of…