My new film Over-the-Rhine, which has its world premiere in Orlando next month, is about forgiveness, so the subject is very much on my mind. Update: Over-the-Rhine went on to win numerous awards and was released under the title Healing River. It can be seen or ordered here.
How do you forgive the unforgiveable? To begin with, you have to remember that, while there are unforgiveable acts, there are no unforgiveable people. Yes, tragically, a few souls have “seared consciences” (1 Timothy 4:2) and can no longer discern good from evil. But it is not possible—or necessary—for us to know for certain who those people are. It is possible—and necessary—for us to forgive. (Luke 6:37)
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
So, how do we forgive? To begin with, we stop trying to feel like we do, and do the hard work of raw forgiveness. “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor,” C.S. Lewis says, simply “act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets: when you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” (Mere Christianity)
Well, sure, but that’s only our neighbors. Right? Uncomfortably, Jesus offers no quarter for deserters here. First, he defines neighbor as anyone who needs what we have to give (Luke 10:29-37). And then, in case we find wiggle room still, he insists we apply it to our enemies: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
The answer is there in his words. Did you see it? Pray. The more we pray for someone, the more real, the more human they become. And the more human they become, the harder it is to hate them.
So take the raw first steps. There’s a very good chance it will go badly. But press on anyway. As you do, your enemy will become more and more real. He will have a name. She will have a past. He will have made terrible choices…choices you yourself might have made if circumstances had been different. Keep praying for her. Every day.
Is forgiveness enough? Perhaps not, but it’s the foundation for all that follows: mercy, grace…
Maybe even love.