This past Sunday I attempted a sermon on forgiveness and reconciliation and was struck by the difficulty of making sense of such a difficult topic. It is fairly apparent that Jesus expected his disciples to be aliens in this world by being forgiving of others; teaching them to pray for enemies, to be peacemakers, to forgive 70 x 7, and by making the forgiveness of our own debts to God contingent upon our forgiveness of others.
I didn't want to approach forgiveness in the fashion of C.S. Lewis whose basic thought was, as I understand it, that we forgive because we have been commanded to. If we are forgiving unkind words, a broken window, a scrape to the paint of the car... Commandment could very well work. But for bigger issues such as spousal abuse or the abuse of children by adults, murder, racial crimes of violence, genocide, commanded forgiveness just doesn't work.
In the end I'm afraid I made forgiveness sound very self-serving. My point was that we forgive so that we can become and remain our truest selves. I connect forgiveness to the first commandment's urge to have no other gods. If we cannot forgive we constantly live in an emotional, psychological and spiritual orbit around the wrong done to us and the wrong-doer. Our values, reactions, decisions are made in reference to that wrong. This is perfectly understandable from a psychological point of view especially in reference to trauma, and I am not judging that having had to forgive some traumas myself. My idea is that we forgive so that God remains the focus of our lives; what God wants for and expects of us is the star which marks our navigation, not the actions of another person. Forgiveness is the act of freeing ourselves from external influences so that we can keep God the god of our lives.
Some found this helpful... forgiveness as a way of connecting to God and becoming our true selves. Others felt that it was still too simplified a discussion of a difficult topic.
From a global view reconciliation is a necessary and this was Jesus perspective I think. Looking at the prevailing forces of rebellion and strife in Roman occupied Palestine and knowing that at least some of his fellow Jews help a militaristic view of the Messiah, when Jesus spoke of forgiveness, he was looking at genocide, ethnic cleansing, economic cruelty and bloody rebellion and attempting to lift up a different and better way to seek and find justice for his people.
How this translates to a mother who has lost her son to a drunk driver or a wife beaten by her husband, I still struggle to work out. That it is necessary to find peace somehow with a painful past in order to imagine a 'new Jerusalem' for our lives in God seems the ideal, but the practicality of that process still evades me.