Readiness to accept someone in spite of what they have said or done. The need for forgiveness arises from a sense of having wronged another – a particular individual, a group of people, or a larger social entity, even a reality perceived of as God. Apology or penitence following awareness of wrongdoing may be regarded as a moral precondition for forgiveness.

There is a long tradition expressed in terms of forgiveness being bought with a gift or sacrifice – sometimes very simple, sometimes highly elaborate. The ethics of purchase power are sometimes described as appropriately compensatory for hurt or damage caused. Paying a great price in terms of finance, animal life or even human sacrifice have all featured in the currency of seeking forgiveness.

There is also a tradition which finds the attempt to buy forgiveness – or love – as morally demeaning. Compensation is one thing, restitution of a broken relationship or a lost trust requires an attitude and expression of a different order. In this regard, working out the means of achieving reconciliation is a challenging task for anyone who would engage in moral education, and one in which change of heart and mind is involved.

Illustrative scenarios

A wronged relationship

It wasn’t meant to be like this. They had been together for seven years. They’d shared a flat together, which became a home. His music wasn’t always hers, and she knew he wasn’t as keen as she on the Chagall on the wall by the door. But they’d been here and there, done a lot of this and that, and it had seemed good. Yet they’d argued. She admitted she’d had her moods and screamed from time to time, but she’d put up with his football, his falling asleep with the TV when she was wanting him in bed, and his being stubborn. Now though, just when she had thought that they were ready to start a family, he’d gone and left her. There’d been no real warning, till he began staying out and finding reasons to be away. Then she’d found those ticket stubs for that pop concert in the pocket of the jacket she had to sponge to prevent a permanent stain...and then he’d called her Susan as he snuggled into her half asleep.
She’d been totally bereft. How could he do this to her? Why should it happen to her? Hadn’t she given him so much of her whole life and self? Her friends had tried to be supportive. They said she was better off without him, and that she’d find someone else. But this was six months ago and she still felt as wretched as ever. She blamed herself: why hadn’t she seen it coming? Why hadn’t she been the person he’d wanted? She couldn’t forgive herself for being so stupid. She blamed him: why had he not said if he was unhappy? How could he have just used her for so long and then discarded her like an empty jam jar?"

question: what place is there for forgiveness here?

And they said we should forgive

There was no doubt that the fire had been started deliberately. Yes, the house was tinder dry from a hot summer. And the gusting wind was driving with unusual force through a half-open window in the hallway. But sparks must first be made to fly if there’s to be ignition; fires, like car engines, don’t start of their own accord. To start with it seemed it might have been some lads whose mean mischief had blown up way beyond their expectations; they’d planned for smoke, but not an inferno. But now there was evidence of petrol. First impression might suggest that no-one could have known that there was a young mother and her baby son asleep upstairs; they had only been there in the upstairs flat for a week. Though furnished, it had been empty for at least a month. But in this neighbourhood no-one moves in or out without it being noticed. Even if you placed an advert on TV, the local grapevine would do a better job. It was arson and the killing consequences must have been clear.
She was our only daughter; her older brother is still alive. Why did it happen?
Some think it was racism; yes, there are people who hate us for being black.
Others say it was her man, the father of her child, who was choked that she’d left him after yet another beating. We are scared that it might have been someone from our family who thought she was bringing disgrace on us by her friendship with this man from where she worked. We know we’ve lost her in a terrible burning. No-one should be allowed to get away with this. They should be caught and punished. Fire not forgiveness is what they deserve.

question: is forgiveness sometimes not only inappropriate, but wrong?

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