Forgiveness, we are asked to forgive those who trespass against us as we need this mercy for ourselves.
But forgiveness cannot only be understood in the context of God and ourselves. The thing about forgiveness is it always has two parts, and sometimes it’s humanity and humanity, and other times it is society and a citizen. Either way both parties are thrown into a dilemma of needing forgiveness and giving it. and yet is it really just as simply as saying I am sorry.
In Corinth Greece, when the early faith community had an issue with a young man having sex with his father’s wife, Paul the Apostle’s response was to have him removed from the faith community and for a season, in Paul’s words, “given over to the devil” for the destruction of his flesh, or the cutting out of this part of his life as it was affecting his spiritual future. He was to be, in effect, imprisoned for a season till he came to his senses.
Either way forgiveness or the act of forgiveness was measured out differently for different contexts and we should not simplify it down to a point that it is worthless and thrown around like something of little value.
As someone that has spent a considerable amount of time working with people, and seeing the destructive power inflicted on others, forgiveness has been a necessary part of the pathway to wholeness and restoration for victim and perpetrator.
An essential part of that restoration has been the bringing together of the victim and the perpetrator, where the victim is central and where they are able to say what they need to the perpetrator of their pain and find release and healing.
An essential part also of this transaction is the part of the perpetrator to own fully and without restraint their part to play in the hurt and to confess and own what they have done. And it is this ownership of their wrong that often frees the victim of their pain and the perpetrator at the same time.
For forgiveness is one side of a coin, that on the other side is often (but not always) confession and repentance.
Yes repentance, a word we hardly hear any more but one that fills the pages of so many of our faith letters and documents, books and archives.
It is an essential part of forgiveness because without the ownership and desire to do something different on the part of the perpetrator then there is a high likelihood they may well repeat that behaviour again.
We tell our children not to put their hand in the fire because if they do they will feel pain, but sometimes it is the pain they must feel to truly learn the lesson.
If prison is to be redemptive and rehabilitative which I firmly believe it should be, then there is an aspect of incarceration that must include in my mind the opportunity to feel the pain of not having the freedoms they were once used to because it is this fire that can bring the change they need.
Reading through Parole Board hearings in New Zealand as I do, and having attended a Parole Board hearing earlier this year in New Zealand, it is clear that an essential part of the New Zealand Corrections system and release is the prisoner accepting fully and wholly their part in the crime they have committed.
Without it there is no early release, no reduction from maximum to minimum lock up or conditions or likelihood of parole.
That is something our Corrections may look to consider as they consult with New Zealand’s corrections services – and especially in light of the case highlighted in the paper this weekend and the incarceration of a man convicted of the manslaughter of his grandson. He is someone I considered a friend and colleague.
Forgiveness and change comes when a person internally changes and faces the pain they have committed fully and only then can they forgive themselves and find deep and meaningful change.
As an advocate for prisoners’ rights, I understand that forgiveness left too late is cruel and unkind – but forgiveness given too freely and too early dulls the prisoner’s ability for real change.
We all need forgiveness and to forgive but it is a gift that should be given in the light of a heart that demonstrates change and wants to reach out to those they have hurt and with a humility that seeks restoration and healing, and something both victim and prisoner desperately need.
Finally, my heart goes out to the family of this poor young boy, because nothing we say or do will bring him back, but maybe we can say something, do something, and speak up to ensure no child suffers in silence ever again.