In considering the role of a therapist in helping another forgive those who have wounded them, Griffin’s (2004) caution is worth noting as she expressed concern over the tendency of some to use power or control to coerce persons to forgive. She takes the position that choosing not to forgive an offender may be a healthy choice for some unspecified period of time. However, she may have overstated the case when she advised that anyone who would suggest that a person must or should forgive should not be believed:
“It would be impertinent to tell those who have gone through terrible experiences that they must, or should forgive. That they are somehow lacking in moral fiber if they don’t, or not as good as those people who do come to forgiveness. It is not for us to judge the path of forgiveness in someone else. We are all on the journey of forgiveness, but some of us have things to forgive which are so painful that it may take years even to be able to begin to look at them with any possibility of change. There are some life events from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover, and it is important that we honor that experience” (Griffin, 2004, p. 18).
Allender (1995) agrees that forgiveness is not something to be forced on someone who has suffered abuse:
“It is an aspect of the healing process, but not a bitter pill to swallow. It must be assumed not commanded. A heart that knows something of the joy of returning to God will be drawn to offer restoration like God” (p. 240).
Commenting on the importance of a person finding a willingness to forgive within their own heart, rather than being coerced into forgiving, Smedes (1996) observed,
“We ought to forgive the way a spouse ought to make love, a sad person ought to cry, a happy person ought to smile, a lyrical person ought to sing, and a grateful person ought to say thank you. We ought to do it because it suits us well….[so that] when we actually do forgive, we are only doing what comes naturally to anyone who has felt the breath of forgiving love on her own heart” (Smedes, 1996, p. 69).
Though Anderson (2003) would agree that no one should be coerced or overpowered to forgive, he does not see the issue of the timing of forgiveness as much in terms of readiness as much as in terms of obedience and a crisis of the will. As such, one should not delay forgiving on the basis of not feeling like forgiving since, according to Scripture, God commands His followers to forgive. If God commands it, reasons Anderson, it can be done with the help of God, who He believes supplies the believer’s every need. Therefore, in the face of any internal resistance that may be experienced, Anderson advises individuals to simply step out in faith and trust God to provide the grace and power necessary to follow through. As such, to delay extending forgiveness and to continue to harbor bitterness due to a perceived lack of readiness is the choice to unnecessarily prolong the suffering of the injured party and to choose to disobey God in distrust.
Volf (2005) echoed Anderson’s sentiment when he wrote:
“Since God commands us to forgive, now we actually have to get on with the business of forgiving! Are we generous enough to do it? Can we muster enough inner strength? Are we humble enough to forgive well? It helps to remember that we ourselves were forgiven, it helps to live in a community that celebrates forgiveness, and above all, it helps that it’s ultimately Christ who forgives through us, that our forgiveness is an echo of God’s” (Volf, 2005, p. 218).
Anderson, N. T. (2003). Discipleship counseling: The complete guide to helping others walk in freedom and grow in Christ. Ventura, CA: Regal.
Griffin, K. (2004). The forgiveness formula: How to let go of your pain and move on with life. New York, NY: Marlowe & Company.
Smedes, L. B. (1996). The art of forgiving: When you need to forgive and don’t know how. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Volf, M. (2005). Free of charge: Giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.