“Forgiveness is not easy, but it is the path to healing. It was not easy for Nelson Mandela to spend twenty-seven years in prison, but when people say to me what a waste it was, I say no, it was not a waste. It took twenty-seven years for him to be transformed from an angry, unforgiving young radical into an icon of reconciliation, forgiveness and honour who could go onto lead a country back from the brink of civil war and self-destruction.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu received world-wide recognition (and the Nobel Peace Prize) for the moral and spiritual leadership he gave in opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime. Then in the post-apartheid era, President Mandela asked him to Chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which helped South Africa address the crimes committed during that era without bitter recrimination. His book No Future Without Forgiveness tells the incredible story of the commission.
Personal and practical
For these reasons, Desmond Tutu is best known for being a Christian whose faith has helped influence the public and political climate of his country. The best thing about this new book, jointly authored with his daughter, is how personal and practical it is.
I am sure that everyone reading this is in someway burdened with pain and hurts from their past. Because of the danger that we turn people like Tutu into superheroes, it is significant that both co-authors frame the book so personally: Desmond Tutu writing about the pain of witnessing his father’s verbal and physical abuse towards his mother as a young boy and Mpho Tutu writing about the trauma of finding her housekeeper, Angela, brutally murdered in her home.
It is worth stating that the book has a whole section of what forgiveness is not. The authors are clear that forgiveness is not weakness, it is not a subversion of justice and it is not forgetting what happened. Perhaps most helpfully, they share that it is not easy.
Despite the challenges, both co-authors are clear that it is the path to healing, restoration and freedom:
“Are you hurt and suffering? Is in the injury new, or is it an old unhealed wound? Know that what was done to you was wrong, unfair, and undeserved. You are right to be outraged. And it is perfectly normal to want to hurt back when you have been hurt. But hurting back rarely satisfies. We think it will, but it doesn’t. If I slap you back after you slap me, it does not lessen the sting I feel on my own face, not does it diminish my sadness as to the fact that you have struck me. Retaliation gives, at best, only momentary respite from our pain. The only way to experience healing and peace is to forgive. Until we forgive, we remain locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of peace.” (p.16)
The Fourfold Path
At the heart of the book is the ‘Fourfold path of forgiveness’ which is as follows:
1. Telling the Story 2. Naming the Hurt 3. Granting Forgiveness 4. Renewing or Releasing the Relationship
This framework offers a ‘theory’ of forgiveness that both rings true to my experience and also corresponds with good theology. Truth - through telling the story and naming the hurt - are essential stages of authentic forgiveness. We should never pretend that hurtful things have not happened, they need to be dealt with in the ‘fierce light of truth’.
Finally, what makes this book so special is how practical it is. Each section ends with accessible and simple exercises which help the reader actually engage in the process of forgiveness rather than analyse it from a safe distance. It was not easy spending a whole morning carrying a stone around in my left hand, but it brought home to me the issues of unforgiveness that I carry around more than just thinking about them ever could!
The Book of Forgiving is a beautifully distilled book, full of moving personal story, convincing theory, challenging practical exercise and deep spirituality. I would highly recommend it for anyone – because we all carry the scars of pain that we have either caused or been a victim of. We all need hope and we all need forgiveness.