In recent years, I’ve contemplated the subject of forgiveness. Each time I do, I’m reminded of the lyrics in Don Henley’s song, “The Heart of the Matter”. He sings of his struggle to deal with a breakup with his fiancée. During his journey, he comes to believe that getting “to the heart of the matter” is about forgiveness. In researching his song, and its repeating forgiveness refrain, I found out that it was a very personal matter to him and that he’d insisted to his co-author that it be included.
Major religions on Earth each have in their fundamental tenets an admonition that forgiveness leads to spiritual peace. To those who would ask, “What about the eye for an eye…” passage in the Christian Bible?”, I respond, “Do we only forgive after we’ve punished the offender?” Read carefully, and you will find those were passages referring to civil authorities, not in the guidelines for how you respond to your neighbor who has offended or wronged you. Jesus speaks of forgiveness, not vengeance, in the Bible.
I confess I’ve agonized over the concept of forgiveness for years – not over the simple absolution one can give for a slight, a petty theft, bullying, or other lesser affronts. I’m troubled by genocide, mass murder, and the other larger offenses of mankind, not just from my perspective, but on behalf of those most offended or harmed. Would we expect a holocaust survivor to forgive those who killed millions, even their entire families? The fact we have and do use the term “unforgivable”, would imply some things can’t be forgiven. But shouldn’t the principle of forgiveness apply equally to crimes large and small, to gain peace in one’s mind and soul?
It seems to be a baser part of human nature to feel the need for vengeance on a visceral level, rather than righting a wrong with justice when offended. I know that in my case when I hear about certain crimes, such as those against children, I have the desire to lash out with “Let’s hang him from the nearest tree”, type thoughts. The thought of forgiveness never crossed my mind in those moments. Yet, I feel the turmoil and stress of what those negative emotions do to my peace of mind, binding my psyche in a no-win struggle that does no good. Those feelings tear at my soul, not bringing any remedy or justice for the victim. It just causes me to hold tight to the internal turmoil filed under “unforgivable acts”.
For some, that “file drawer of the soul” overflows with personal demons, causing bitterness and hate toward others. Not being willing or able to forgive thoroughly clouds reason, not allowing one to see who or what is right in front of them in the present time. People then act based on past upsets, real or imagined, instead of finding true internal peace by practicing forgiveness.
I’m mindful of one section of the lyrics of Don’s song that seems to apply to me. He says, “But my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter”. I’ve spent several hours off and on for days, struggling to write about forgiveness, attempting to grasp the intangible within my fists unsuccessfully. Has the same fate befallen me that he speaks of? Beyond any recent struggle, though, I’m convinced that forgiveness is at the heart of the matter.