Forgive and Forget
by Lewis Smedes
Reviewed by Michael Morrison
Lewis Smedes has written a very practical book on forgiveness. He does not hold out impossible ideals for us or make us feel lousy for our inability to be perfect forgivers. He just explains that it’s really for our own good — if we don’t forgive, if we let the anger and resentment churn within us, we are letting the offender captivate and control our lives.
It is normal and right to be angry when someone does something to hurt us. But if our anger leads to vengeance and violence, it helps no one. And if it stays within us, it hurts us even more. But if we didn’t hurt, there would be nothing to forgive. So the process of forgiveness begins with hurt. And it involves hate when we blame a person for the pain we experienced and we wish that they would experience some pain of their own.
So in an ideal world, we explain to the offender the pain that we experienced and the offender’s role in causing that pain; then they feel some of our pain and give credible promises that they will not do it again. Friendship is restored, and we give scarcely a thought to the previous pain.
But, as part 2 of the book notes, this is not an ideal world. Sometimes the person who hurt us is dead or gone; sometimes we do not even know the stranger who got away with murder. There is no way to restore the relationship because there never was one to start with.
Other times, the offender doesn’t care about our pain — and may have even intended to cause it. The person will not repent, or promises to do something worse if given the chance. Some offenders continue to cause harm regardless of whether they are forgiven, and no reconciliation is possible. What do we do with our thwarted desire for justice? Do we let it stew in us, thereby giving the offender even more power to inflict pain? Or can we somehow let it go, give it up to God, and move on with our life?
Many people find it difficult to forgive themselves. Perhaps they were repeatedly punished by a parent and somehow feel that they must have deserved it. Some people find it difficult to forgive God for what he did or did not do. Smedes deals with the difficult cases in a practical way.
In part 3, his chapter titles lay out the ways people forgive: slowly; with a little understanding; in confusion; with anger left over; and freely or not at all.
We take a risk when we forgive — a risk that the person may hurt someone again — but we also take a risk when we do not forgive. We can forgive without setting ourselves up for danger, without inviting the person to repeat the bad behavior. For those who have been deeply hurt, who want to forgive and yet find it horribly difficult, this book will help.
"Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other" (pages xv-xvi).
Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes, HarperSanFrancisco, paperback, 176 pages, $13.95.