The room was dimly lit, with the setting autumn sun somehow always shining behind him - his tall, thin posture eclipsing the backlit window. His insights as he spoke were piercingly accurate. Who was this man? He was an aging Swiss psychoanalyst, a master clinician under whom I was privileged to work in 2015 while completing my medical training. We met on Tuesday evenings in his home; the same office in which he saw his patients.
Those insights he shared often hit home and related to my own emotional baggage more than that of the patient cases I thought I was there to review. I want to focus this discussion on one of these insights. He used to say, in more eloquent terms and with a slight accent,
“Anger is the flower that grows out of the ground, but deep beneath the surface are roots made of pain and suffering.”
In order to heal the anger, we needed to heal the pain. Of course I wondered how to heal the pain.
“You have to understand it, and then the patient needs to forgive."
Without forgiveness there would be no healing, only continued pain and continued anger.
I had heard all this before, in different terms, but the concept was the same. Somehow, though, it got filed into the “interesting, but not particularly useful” folder. Forgiveness is the solution to pain and suffering. Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but the more time I spend thinking about it, the more true it seems.
Forgiveness is the solution to pain and suffering.
This was reinforced for me last week during a small group at our house when we looked closely at Matthew 18:21-35. Peter asks the question, “How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me?” Jesus responds with a story. You should read it. In the story Jesus makes it clear that forgiveness heals. How does God deal with the problem of evil? He forgives us.
He gives us the same advice for dealing with the problem of evil in our communities. This is a hard thing for me to believe, because I don’t naturally think of forgiveness as a cure. I naturally think of punishment as a cure – retaliation, consequences, and holding a hard line.
How does forgiveness fix the problem of evil? I don’t know for sure, but I am drawn to the insights of my old supervisor, “You have to understand it, and then the patient needs to forgive.” In a reactive culture that is quick to anger and loathe to understand another’s plight, forgiveness is needed more than ever.
In what ways is anger manifesting itself in your life? Is there anyone in your life that you need to understand and then forgive?