When horrible things happen, when there is blood and tears and terror, is forgiveness the right choice? Why forgive the monsters who did this to me or even God for letting it happen? We forgive because when we don't, that blood, those tears and that terror fester in our souls and become a monster within us. This beast is quiet most of the time, but it flares when we least expect it, leaving us filled with impotent rage, depression or anxiety. Forgiveness gives us back our power and comforts our own souls.
So, how does one forgive deliberate cruelty? It can feel like an impossible task. Violations, big or small, need to owned. "This really happened. I didn't deserve it. It hurt. I suffered." We must claim it to our core. As we open that door the anger will come, and when it comes, when the fear comes, when the grief comes, put a video on for the kids, get up from your desk, excuse yourself from the board meeting and find a private place. Let yourself feel those feelings, whatever they are. We may cry or rant or even scream (pillows and cars are good for this), but we have to be allowed to feel what we feel. I know it seems like if you open that door you will fall into an abyss, that there is no bottom to the well of these feelings, but that simply isn't true. Human beings can't sustain an emotional response forever. Even the worst pains have an end. Of course, it's possible that it will well up again and even again, but as much as it feels like you will always suffer. The truth is that it will fade when you give yourself permission to go through it. Only then can we even understand forgiveness. Before we own what's been done to us, any discussion of forgiveness is really about denial, pretending it didn't happen or "forgetting" about it.
Real forgiveness is about empathy, You may think, "How do I empathize with a rapist or murderer or other equally violent people?" Well, the truth is that once you allow yourself to really feel the anger, it slowly starts to blow itself out. And when you're on the other side of that all it takes is a regular reminder that you don't know or understand what's going on inside of any other person. You can't understand what demons roll around in their heads. What they battle everyday. From there it gets easier. When I find myself condemning someone again I remind myself to ask, "would I rather have my life or theirs?" That's easy. Whatever troubles I have (even the ones that they caused), at least I am not driven to hurt people. Most of us want to think of the people that hurt us as monsters, as evil, but the truth is much scarier. They are people just like us. With struggles we can't imagine. They are trying to fill some hole in their souls that even they may not understand. And who's to say that if you had that same hole to contend with that you wouldn't behave in the same way. That is not to say that there aren't some people that truly need to be kept away from others. They are so plagued as to always be a danger, but that does mean we can find a way to empathize and find forgiveness.