Forgiveness and the Healing Process: A Central Therapeutic Concern

By Cynthia Ransley; Terri Spy | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

Forgiveness: themes and issues

Cynthia Ransley

'Teach me to forgive, ' asks the disciple of his master in an ancient Indian story. 'If you had not condemned, ' comes the reply, 'you would not have needed to forgive.'

(Soares-Prabhu 1986:63)

In discussing forgiveness, do we not also have to grapple with the desire for revenge? When we have been wronged, how can we find some relief for our feelings of anger and distress? The ancient Greeks talked of the Furies who would pursue and torture wrongdoers and many of us may have longed, on occasions, for the support of the Furies. But we may also be influenced by our version of the Bible where God alone is allowed revenge: 'vengeance [is] mine; I will repay, saith the Lord' (Romans 12:19).

Murphy (1988) writes of 'retributive emotions': specific passions of anger, resentment and hatred which need to be diffused, not least for the sake of public order, into a criminal justice system. 'The criminal law gives distinct satisfaction for the desire for vengeance' wrote Stephen (1973). Justice is seen as retributive, offering the victim some direction for his or her anger. But many feel some discomfort at the thought of a purely retributional system of justice, even if restricted to 'an eye for an eye'. Various moral and religious traditions have come together with the view, in our culture, that we should transcend these feelings and that our desire for retribution be tempered by 'softer' emotions such as compassion, forgiveness and mercy. Justice is then, the argument goes, more likely to become restorative, seeking to rehabilitate the wrongdoer and ideally support the victim too. Restorative justice in the criminal justice system and in South Africa's Truth and

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