Forgiveness – A Study

Video: Forgiveness – Patty Griffin

Genesis 50:15-21


How to combine vengeance and forgiveness remains a great mystery here.  The writers of the Hebrew Bible are sure that no human has the power to combine them.


…of forgiveness as a social-political rule we hear very little in the Hebrew Bible.

Without the reconciliation after the crime, Israel might not have existed: this is the point of the Joseph story.

Joseph is the victim in this story. 

He realizes he has an opportunity to make things different. 

Joseph initiates the change. 

Setting aside justice and pain, he takes the first step. 

He refuses to remain a victim and allows God to use him as a healer of broken relationships.

Joseph’s decision was not a snap one. 


It begins back in chapter 37 when his brothers cast him into a pit. 

Through his dreams and experiences he comes to a place of forgiveness – a willingness to let go. 

By the time his brothers stand before him in chapter 42, Joseph is already predisposed to extend mercy and help. 

He can move beyond the past and do the right thing in the present.

(“Reunited!” by Steve Harper, in The Upper Room Disciplines 2005, 232-233)

Undertows of fear, suspicion, and guilt will tug at this reconciliation down to the very end of the story.  In this dramatic moment [Gen.45:1-5, 15] all the dimensions of forgiveness between humans have at last emerged: painful, judgemental truth; forbearance of revenge; empathy and compassion; and a new solidarity between enemies. 

But if these are the requirements of a genuine act of human forgiveness, the story seems to say, their convergence can be difficult, long delayed, and forever imperfect.

To this point in the Joseph story, no one has used the word forgive, and the word in fact will not appear until the very end.

As part of a fabrication, forgiveness for [the brothers] is a bare, almost speculative possibility.  For them, the law of revenge stands always ready in human affairs to swallow up this unlikely contender, forgiveness


Forgiveness, as a human event, means the commitment of members of a society to each other, because, in spite of evil, only in that relationship does life make sense, or continue in ways worth the living.

Donald W. Shriver Jr. An Ethic For Enemies, p. 24-28


Prayer to Mamagod

Written September 28th, 2001. © Amy Martin.

Dear Mamagod,

who art here on earth

I have a confession

to make to you

I’m no different

Than the ones I criticize

In these angry times

I am at war with them

Their arrogance and brutality

astounds me

They think one murder

justifies another

Help me,

I’m so scared Mother

I don’t know how to fight them

without becoming like them

She says –

“You can’t fight war with war

You can’t stop violence

with violence

You can’t conquer hate

with hate, my daughter

Look into your own heart

and start there

To make peace

in a world at war”

Dear Mamagod,

I want to be a hero

I want to say or do something

that will change the world

Is it you

who put this desire in me

or is it just my ego?

Harness my will

to your wisdom

and purpose

She says –

“You can’t fight war with war

You can’t stop violence

with violence

You can’t conquer hate

with hate, my daughter

Look into your own heart

and start there

To make peace

in a world at war”

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those

who sin against us

Forgive me my sins,

help me forgive those

who sin against me

Dear Mamagod,

I am full of arguments

Reasoned explanations,

good justifications

But the truth is,

the only thing I truely know

Is that my heart can find

no logic behind

Inflicting pain, and fear,

and death on my own kind

My heart can find

no logic behind this

She says –

“You can’t fight war with war

You can’t stop violence

with violence

You can’t conquer hate

with hate, my daughter

Look into your own heart

You have to start there

To make peace

in a world at war”

Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew West Forgiveness

  • “Finding a new way to live without being bound to your offender and all the pain, anger, guilt, and other junk that goes with being a victim. It is learning to leave all the junk behind and growing again as God intended.”
    • “Forgiveness is not absolution. It is not an act that frees people from the consequences of their action.
    • Forgiveness is not done for the sake of the other person, the victimizer. Instead, it is a process by which the victim endeavours to free himself from the bondage of revenge.
      • Forgiveness can be defined as giving up all hope of a better past.
      • It is an act by which the victim moves out of the grip of the past and into an open and promising future.”

      Interfaith Dialogue And Peacebuilding, edited by David R. Smoch, U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2002 , 82.

Tenth Avenue North

“Forgiving happens in three stages:


We rediscover the humanity of the person who wronged us,


we surrender our right to get even,


and we wish that person well.“

The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How, Lewis B. Smedes, Moorings,1996.


Father of insurgency victim
embarks on journey of forgiveness


Michael Berg speaks at Bethel College on Oct. 13. Photo by Paul Schrag/MWR

Berg is the father of Nicholas Berg, an American entrepreneur who was killed by members of the radical Islamic group Muntada al-Ansar in May 2004. 

Since that day, Michael Berg has been struggling to find forgiveness for his son’s murderers and for the U.S. leaders he holds responsible for the war in Iraq.  “Finding peace took me over the greatest distance I have ever traveled,” said Berg, a longtime antiwar activist. “But now my concept of peace had come to include my son.”

Still, faced with television cameras in those first days, Berg said he lashed out at President George W. Bush — whose policies his son supported — and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom he holds responsible for his son’s death. But this rage ultimately was unsatisfying.

Berg said he began to examine the possible motives the killers had for committing violence, which helped him to understand the self-perpetuating dynamics of revenge.  At the heart of the Iraq war, he realized, was the Middle Eastern desire for self-governance.  “Isn’t that what the men who killed on Sept. 11 wanted?” Berg said. “Isn’t that what the men who killed my son wanted? Sovereignty for the Middle East.”

His rage “was stopped by the sure knowledge that seeking revenge would justify seeking [more] revenge,” Berg said. “Violence and vengeance fill us with hate, and this hate takes from us all our goals and aspirations. . . . How could I forget the people of the Middle East now that I knew their suffering?”

“In all of these people, I found a calmness and inner peace,”

He learned to be angry not at people, but their actions.  “I have forgiven, on most days, the men who killed my son,”

But because he has not yet met them in person, “I have not reconciled with them.”

“Peace is closely related to forgiveness,”

“You cannot have one without the other. Learning to forgive opens your life to love. Without it, we cannot survive.”

Video: Peter Katz

In honour of Nicholas Berg

Five Myths of Forgiveness


Schrock-Shenk, Carolyn, ed. Mediation and Facilitation Training Manual, Mennonite Conciliation Service, 2000

Myth 1:

Forgiving means forgetting.

The reality is that remembering is essential for forgiveness.

Myth 2:

Forgiving means accepting the offence.

The reality is that naming the offence as sinful and unacceptable is essential to forgiveness.

Myth 3:

Forgiving is automatic.

The reality is that anger, hatred, and bitterness follow naturally from an offence.

Myth 4:

Forgiving is quick and a one-time event.

The reality is that forgiveness is a process

Myth 5:

Forgiving means the relationship is reconciled.

The reality is that forgiveness does not equal reconciliation.  Forgiveness only needs one person; reconciliation needs two.  (Reconciliation requires forgiveness and repentance.)

To “for-give” is, in the English language, an extended, expanding, strengthened form of the verb to give…To “for-give” is a process of giving up…we give up demands for perfect behaviour, perfect justice, perfect resolution, perfect retribution…we give up the angry picture of the wrong-doer.

We forgo revenge

Forfeit recriminations

Forbid old resentments

Forbear strategies of getting satisfaction for the injury

Foresee an open future in our relationship

Forsake old patterns of brooding review

Move toward forgetting the pain and remembering the healing

In forgiving and forgetting we forge a new relationship (52-53)

– David Augsburger, The New Freedom of Forgiveness, Moody Press, 2000


allows us to break the chains of the past

and enter into a new,

more hopeful future.

Prayer Video
Kevin LeVar
“A Heart That Forgives”


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