On Forgiveness

On a recent visit to Japan I met Mr. Hirotami Yamada, who was 14 and in Nagasaki in 1945 when the US dropped the atomic bomb. He told me that action was “unforgivable.”

In the presence of Mr. Yamada, I felt an uncomfortable mix of sadness, regret and what I can only describe as guilt. I do not believe I am personally culpable for the action that caused him so much suffering, but I do believe I share moral responsibility for the US failure to acknowledge a historical mistake in the years since the US used the atomic bombs.  I felt sad because I witnessed Mr. Yamada’s unshakable resentment. Until we met, I had believed most of my life that all actions ought to be forgivable. My encounter with him has left me wondering whether there are some actions that not only might we not have the capacity to forgive, but that we ought not forgive.

Few people in the world have experienced an attack that even comes close to resembling what happened to Mr. Yamada. Even so, we all at times have been harmed, either directly or indirectly, by other people’s actions. Most of us have been the victim of wrongdoing. Most of us have had our trust betrayed. Most of us have experienced resentment towards an offender. We have also caused harm, either intentionally or unintentionally, directly, or indirectly. Others resent us, if not because of actions or inactions in our personal life, then because of actions taken by the society to which we belong; by the US government, for example.

This month we explore the theme of forgiveness. What do the scriptures of the world religious traditions say about forgiveness? What insight can we glean from psychology and life experience? Perhaps forgiveness is out of reach for most human beings. If so, then what?  And if we can forgive, should we? Is there such a thing as premature forgiveness? And what about those who resent us? What might we do to repair broken relationships? These are some of the questions I invite you to explore as we journey together in the month of September.

See you on Sunday,