Tears ran down the little girl’s face. As she ran to her father, she didn’t wipe them away. “Paul hit me,” she said.
Paul was close behind. “She messed up the chess board on purpose.”
Their father frowned. “You don’t hit girls. Apologize.”
The girl looked at Paul. He crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. “Sorry.”
Their father looked to the girl. “Say you forgive him.”
Her jaw dropped. “What? No!”
“But he’s not even sorry!”
She huffed and crossed her arms, too. “I forgive you,” she growled.
Not too long after, their laughter could be heard all through the house.
In the story above, justice is not served. No one has a right to forgiveness. The children are learning something more important: that forgiveness is important for you, and that it is not tied to justice.
To forgive is to “cease to feel resentment towards” the person who injured you. You can test your own forgiveness. When you think of someone who has injured you, do you still feel angry towards them? Have you put aside your feelings of resentment, or do you hold onto your hurt so you can wield it like a weapon over the one who has caused the harm?
The power of a grudge
When someone hurts you, justice demands restitution. But it is not precise enough to dictate such minute things as feelings. It does not oblige you to forgive.
Because of this, you can hold a grudge. A grudge is like an open wound, proof of the injury that has been done to you, proof that things cannot go back to the way they were. A grudge is power over the one who has hurt you, power that no one can take from you.
For a small injury—such as your little brother whacking you over the head with a frozen salami—your grudge is small. You only mention it teasingly whenever the subject comes up (at his birthday party, when you drive his friends home from school, or perhaps at his wedding). You want to make him feel a little guilty, just for fun.
If the injury is large—such as the oppression of one people by another—the grudge will be large. The injustice aches to your depths, the wound feels like it might never close, hate stops up your veins. Every opportunity to show the pain, to drive the guilt into the oppressors, feels like a way to lessen your own.
That’s the power of a grudge.
Forgiveness: healing for yourself
When you hold a grudge, you yourself continue the injury you received. It’s as though you tear off the scab and prevent the wound from healing. A grudge creates scar tissue and increases the likelihood of infection.
To not forgive is to allow the injury to change you. Think of something you are still angry about. Is it an injury against your race? Your sex? Your creed? You personally? If you hold onto your anger, you only increase the effect of the injury. You start to love this cause of your power even as you hate it. If you do not forgive, you allow that injury to define you. You become a different person.
In justice to yourself, throw off the injury. If you cannot forgive the offender for his sake, do it for your own.
Forgiveness: the remedy to justice
Justice is good, but imprecise. While it is a balance, it is not meant to cover all facets of an injury. In many cases, complete balance is impossible, such as when the injury done is too great for reparation or when it harms too many aspects of our lives. When justice cannot find the perfect punishment, injury becomes grudge and grudge becomes the power to revenge.
To use injury in this way, however, ensures that the cycle of harm will not end. One injury will result in another; justice, unable to satisfy the victim, will allow punishment after punishment forever. Without forgiveness, we will always be guilty in each other’s eyes.
Forgiveness is the remedy to the complications of justice. Without it, things will never mend, and life can never go back to the way it was. Forgiveness is a way to set aside the imbalance, and it is the only way forward in this imperfect world.