Have Faith: Forgiveness

What it is and what it is not.


Editor’s note: From time to time, the “Have Faith” column is written by guest writers connected to the Island’s faith communities.

Forgiveness is one of the key tools of Christian faith. And knowing Jesus forgave those who put him to death means that we can have that power to forgive too. While it is not mentioned specifically as a spiritual gift, being given power from God to forgive because of Jesus is definitely on my prayer list!

Forgiveness is often misunderstood and dismissed. People say, “Oh, I can’t forgive that.”

Right! We can’t forgive on our own! I have never been able to do it. It depends on understanding that we have a shared humanity, and the humility to know that we could have each done whatever it is we can’t forgive. Certainly we might not have done the unforgivable in this life as we know it, but we are each of us fully capable of doing each and every evil ever done upon the earth, because our humanity is vulnerable to every misguided way of thinking and wounding. It is just grace that we don’t all go seriously astray. As scripture says in Isaiah 53: 6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This is a bit of knowledge that does not come easily to us: It often requires some experience with our own weaknesses to come to this understanding — and it may take telling the story of hurt several times to reach all the little fragments of wounding and beliefs involved.

Forgiveness is not:

  • A license for the person to continue the behavior — particularly to you!
  • Excusing or condoning the behavior.
  • Denying you’re rightfully upset.
  • Done with a feeling of moral superiority — that’s just anger in another guise.
  • The same as amnesty, or a legal pardon, or reconciliation. (Reconciliation after forgiveness is a choice, and depends largely on the understanding of the other person.)

Forgiveness is:

  • Acknowledging that you are hurt, and naming what hurts.
  • A choice that frees you from resentment, judgment, and pain.
  • A decision that sets the healing process in motion.
  • A process that begins and is woven through with forgiving words and prayer.
  • A process that can take time as we look at our associated triggers and beliefs about others or ourselves.
  • An inner correction that lightens the heart!

Joy is the end gift of forgiveness, and we know we are done with the process when we can repeat the story as just a story — one that now you can tell with peace — and give the glory to God!

As it says in John 20: 23, “If you forgive the sins of others, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of others, they are retained.” And in Matthew 18: 20-22, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seven times 77 times!’”

Susan Waldrop is an interfaith minister at large.


Chilmark Community Church announces that it welcomes a new music director, Seán McMahon. He has been a friend of the church since he arrived on the Island in 2016, and has accompanied the church for Sunday worship at times, and played at their Offerings of Music and Light events.

He is a husband, father, and Catholic musician. Seán is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, where he majored in contemporary improvisation with a focus on jazz, world, and early sacred music theory and composition. A former Baptist preacher with a passion for theology, over the years McMahon has shared his gifts in a variety of faith contexts as an ecumenical missionary of the church. He will be playing for Sunday morning worship at 9 am beginning May 14. You can welcome him to the Chilmark Church family this Sunday.