MLK on Forgiveness

My class on forgiveness at Steelbridge, the recovery program for homeless men and women, got postponed again yesterday because of a local flu epidemic. The bright side was that this gave me more time to attend an event where my granddaughter Eden was among those chosen to receive a Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, based on her essay on the impact Dr. King’s principles have had on her life. We were very proud of her, of course, and an added blessing was seeing our friend Pastor John Hill, the director of Steelbridge, onstage to receive the annual Keep the Dream Alive award at the event.

So perhaps this week’s class wasn’t meant to be, but since I was already focused on the topic of forgiveness, and since it was Dr. King’s birthday, I thought I’d check out what King might have said about forgiveness. Here are three quotes, which I’ll comment on briefly:

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.

Just two comments, actually.

  1. Forgiveness as a constant attitude might have arisen out of King’s experience of the constant indignities and insults attendant on being black in America in the early to mid 20th century–especially being a black person pushing for real change. It’s also instructive to those working on imitating God (my last blog) in whatever circumstance. We’ll always encounter insults and offenses, but we don’t need to let them distort our character or dampen our experience.
  2. The third quote reflects something I’ve said about forgiveness and trust. Forgiveness doesn’t restore trust, but it does make trust possible. Likewise, forgiveness doesn’t restore a broken relationship, but it makes that restoration possible. Dr. King was probably thinking about “a fresh start and a new beginning” in black-white relations in America, which we could still use. But the truth of his saying applies on all relational levels.

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