I have been looking at a video about the mass shootings at Sandy Hook entitled, Forgiveness doesn't happen overnight . Forgiving others is an important part of christian teaching yet there is often not enough understanding that forgiveness is a journey. When people have been on the receiving end of very serious hurt or atrocity then to demand or force forgiveness is extremely unhelpful. It also puts us in danger of judging - how many of us would find it easy to forgive if we were a parent whose child had been killed? I've known people who have told me that forgiveness is not so difficult because forgiveness is not an emotion, it is simply an act of will. All I know is that the way I forgive is from the heart, so this doesn't make much sense to me. Indeed we are told in the bible that forgiveness must come from the heart.
The problem with forgiving from the heart is usually because those trying to forgive are experiencing extreme anger or even hatred. Most of us can relate to this. A problem people are less aware of is that sometimes it can be hard to forgive due to a lack of emotion. This can be particularly true of some survivors of childhood abuse because it is common for abused children to build up a barrier between themselves and their emotions as a coping mechanism. As an adult it may be hard for a survivor to identify any emotion connected with the abuse- let alone say whether they have forgiven. A social worker I knew told me that one of his clients had been so damaged by a childhood during which she both witnessed and was on the receiving end of appalling physical and sexual abuse that she would laugh quietly while recounting horrendous events and once told him that, "she didn't give a shit" about what had happened to her. Some survivors of abuse have had their own identity and emotional foundations so damaged that naming or even completely "feeling" emotion can be difficult. It is also quite possible to be generally emotionally literate and functioning but to find that you experience an emotional void when it comes to the area of the abuse.
So what should be the attitude toward forgiveness in christian thought and teaching? It is important that we do not sideline forgiveness. The ability to know ourselves as forgiven and forgiveable, and in turn to forgive others, is the huge liberation at the heart of Christianity. When we can truly forgive from the heart then the thing we have forgiven has no more power over us and we begin to bring about healing in others as well as ourselves.
Any teaching of forgiveness must though be handled with care and sensitivity. Perhaps we cannot forgive from the heart until we have reached a place where we are emotionally secure enough to do so and the journey is a learning and healing process that needs to run its course.