Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Forgiveness gives us the capacity to make a new start. That is the power, the rationale, of confession and forgiveness. It is to say, ‘I have fallen but I am not going to remain there. Please forgive me.’ And forgiveness is the grace by which you enable the other person to get up, and get up with dignity, to begin anew. Not to forgive leads to bitterness and hatred, which, just like self-hatred and self-contempt, gnaw away at the vitals of one’s being. Whether hatred is projected out or projected in, it is always corrosive of the human spirit.
We have all experienced how much better we feel after apologies are made and accepted, but even still it is so hard for us to say that we are sorry. I often find it difficult to say these words to my wife in the intimacy and love of my bedroom. How much more difficult it is to say these words to our friends, our neighbours, and our co-workers. Asking for forgiveness requires that we take responsibility for our part in the rupture that has occurred in the relationship. We can always make excuses for ourselves and find justifications for our actions, however contorted, but we know that these keep us locked in the prison of blame and shame.
We never rush to expose our vulnerability or our sinfulness. But if the process of forgiveness is to succeed, acceptance of responsibility by the culprit is vital. Acknowledgement of the truth and of having wronged someone is important in healing the breach. Is a husband and wife have quarrelled without the wrongdoer acknowledging his or her fault by confessing, so exposing the cause of the rift, then they will be in for a rude shock. Let’s say a husband in this situation comes home with a bunch of flowers and the couple pretends all is in order. It won’t be long – even before the flowers have wilted – that the couple will be at it again. They have not dealt with their pain and bitterness adequately. They have glossed over their differences, for they have failed to stare truth in the face for fear of possible bruising confrontation. But in the end the bruises will be far greater when the fight finally comes.
From chapter 4 of God Has a Dream – a vision of hope for our time, published by Doubleday 2004