Forgiving “Unforgivable” Injustices: A Lutheran Interpretation of the Processes of Interpersonal
Forgiveness by Henry A. Corcoran (originally published in the Lutheran Education Journal, vol 143, no. 2,2014, pp. 98-111)
Researcher and clinical social worker, Beverly Flanigan (1992) tells the story of Ann
Roland. When she came home from work one Wednesday, there unexpectedly in the driveway, sat a rent-it-yourself moving van. Inside the van, she found many of her possessions—television, furniture, various boxes, and even a favorite painting. Fear gripped her heart.
As she walked into the house, she saw her husband, Jerry, seated in one of the chairs still in the living room. Flanigan (1992) narrates this encounter:
He looked slowly up at her and, his eyes finally meeting hers, said, “I’m leaving you. It just isn’t good anymore, and I guess you’ll find out, anyhow. I have another woman. We’ve been together for three years, and I want to marry her” (pp. 15-16).
Flanigan (1992) interprets the meaning of this event, “With four sentences, Ann’s world fell apart” (p. 16). The pieces of a contract-for- life fluttered to the floor of her life. She staggered through the months following the violation. A series of emotions assaulted her sense of stability grief and hatred, bewilderment and shame. Physical symptoms, frequent illnesses and sleep deprivation, plagued her. Her inability to concentrate damaged her work and the care of her children. She reached a pivotal place. Flanigan (1992) records,
Finally, Ann faced the fact that she had been permanently and profoundly changed; she could either forgive her injurer or allow her husband’s adultery and abandonment to “govern her life from that moment on” (p. 16).
According to Flanigan (1992), “unforgivable” injuries carry a moral dimension. They fracture one’s conception of a moral world. Profound and intimate wounds assault a person’s world-view. A violated person often carries weighty burdens from the damaging events, questions about justice and love, about divine presence and abandonment, about shame and fear, and about the persistence and recurrence of pain flowing into the present from the wounded past. The seeming injustice of violations and the failure of divine action to thwart them oppose the ideas of a moral universe and a loving God. The perception about God’s abandonment of the weak, and the profound feelings of shame and terror, combined with the unpredictable storms from memories of the wounding events steal away personal value and any comfort from the image of divine attention. The questions: “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why did these things happen?” and “Where was God?” reach into the very core of one’s sense of a place in the world and unseat one’s perception of personal value. As we stagger about, haunted by these questions, plagued by our pain, and perplexed about how to regain control, we also discover that we search for another and more gratifying ending to the story. Like Ann Roland, we do not want our injurer to author the conclusion.
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