Have We Lost the Meaning of Forgiveness?


Photo by Hang in There/Flickr.com

It’s a common scenario: The loved ones of a victim of a jaw-dropping crime give a press conference in which they announce that they forgive the person who murdered, raped or otherwise brutalized their family member. The perpetrator hasn’t apologized for orchestrating the tragedy or expressed a modicum of regret for the crime. The family members have only just begun the grieving process, only just begun to digest the torment their loved one endured. Yet, they offer forgiveness anyway. But can forgiveness at this early stage be anything but perfunctory? Is forgiveness without repentance even possible?

Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, argues that our society has cheapened the meaning of forgiveness over the years. According to her: “There is a watered-down but widespread form of ‘forgiveness’ best tagged preemptory or exculpatory forgiveness. That is, without any indication of regret or remorse from perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes, we are enjoined by many not to harden our hearts but rather to ‘forgive.’ ” Continue reading