I want to use this opportunity to congratulate every one of us for witnessing the Centenary celebration of the Catholic Church in Abor. In fact, it is a once in a lifetime event that most people dream about but never live to witness. It is in the light of this that I call on my fellow brothers and sisters, friends and well-wishers, to imbibe the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
When we talk of reconciliation with those we offended or those that offended us, we are simply counseling the persons involved to be mindful of the worst sins against humanity, which is continuity of anger, resulting in hatred. A situation in which the soul is brooding over injuries done to it is an act of bitterness. The admonition of the scripture concerning anger is clear; “if you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin and stay angry all day” (Ephesus 4:25-27).
Effects of Anger on Victims
Prolonged anger leaves serious emotional scars on their victims. These scars include trauma, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, resentment, bitterness, vengeful feelings, mistrust, doubt (even self-doubt), suspicion, hostility, hatred, so many negative feelings and emotions. But it would seem that the greatest negative effects the experiences could have on victim on the level of emotions is to keep the victim perpetually under the grip of the feeling of victimhood.
The experience of nausea, chest pain, smothering sensation and fear of pending doom are common when anger is left to linger – panic attacks follow in train and in between attacks, and then there is the dread and anxiety that it would happen again. Very easily, in this condition, people develop a fear and avoidance of the places where these attacks have taken place. Soon, there will not be any place where they can go and feel safe from attacks.
The negative emotional effects that people feel from their experiences of being violated are only a part of the total experience of victimhood. Cognitive dissonances, at times, do occur in the minds of victims. On the one side, they want to believe that they are entitled to their dignity and personhood; on the other side, they cannot reconcile this belief with their experience of what has happened to them. Some have issues in coming to terms with (in understanding) why they were wronged or treated like that.
Indeed, some sufferings and ill treatments can do violence to a person’s fundamental belief; thus, putting the person into crises of faith; i.e. to intense questioning and scrutiny of one’s original religious belief and actions. For some people this questioning encompasses the whole of their lives, the purpose of living, the sources of meaning, as well as the relevance of their entire social networks including affinity to any religion. The loss of religious connectedness, whether in relation to traditional religious affiliations or to a more personal search for personal identity, frequently results in individuals experiencing many of the feelings associated with normal loss of experiences. Thus, feelings of anger and resentment, emptiness and hopelessness, sadness and isolations can be seen in individuals struggling with the loss of previous comforting religious tenets and community identification.
Effects on Hope of Victim
Some people often question the existence of God when situations beyond their hope are shattered. When people are worshipping God in the church and situations such as earthquakes strike, like what happened recently in Ozubulu, it seems the end of hope. But St Paul in his epistle to Hebrew 6:19 restores the shattered hope, when he described hope as an anchor of the soul. As fragile men living in a precarious world, we do need the anchor that hope provides in such situation when we face challenges of changes and chances of the stormy world. But when that anchor is shattered, and nowhere can be found; when glimmer of hope and the light at the end of the tunnel is eclipsed by effects of suffering from harrowing shock, then the individual experiences hopelessness in the following forms: loss of senses of trust and confidence in self, God and others, and inability to see anything positive about almost everything.
The Effects on Sense of Love
From spiritual and religious point of view, love involves generous, dedicated and benevolent concern for others which often times entails acceptance of suffering, surrender and sacrifice. It is characterized by charity and agape. Love certainly is a very complex concept. It is generally understood as an expression of human kindness, compassion and affection. From psychological point of view, love also is captured in the bargain. Anyone/those who feel internally shattered, empty, isolated, and abandoned can hardly have the resources for compassion and commitment. With the loss of a sense of trust and confidence in self, God and others, there would hardly be any room for intimacy and acceptance, surrender and sacrifice that genuine loving requires. When the prevailing mood is gloom and doom, despair and defeatism, the optimism of love disappears.
Need for Forgiveness
From the analysis above, we can see and feel the comfort of forgiveness in our day to day life. The ability to forgive self, God and others gives us the leverage to recover from the negative emotions, stresses and tensions brought on us by traumas of all sorts because it brings with it positive emotions, thoughts and feelings. Positive emotions have undoing effects on negative emotions. It loosens the hold that negative emotions have on an individual’s mind and body by relieving the narrowed psychological and physiological preparation for specific action. In fact, empirical studies have shown that contentment and joy speed-up recovery from the cardiovascular after-effects of negative emotions.
Challenges of Forgiveness & Reconciliation
The enemies of reconciliation are natural and man-made. These factors pose a threat to the process and actualization of true reconciliation. Among the numerous factors militating against true reconciliation are:
Pride is a natural threat. It is the most common and toughest enemy of forgiveness and reconciliation. It has so many offspring. It operates by creating an egocentric deadlock situation bringing about “who is the first offender” and often no one is ready to let go or swallow her pride. It is always there either at forefront or at the background whenever there are quarrels and enmity. It makes forgiveness and repentance practically impossible.
Influence of Others
This is another destructive enemy of reconciliation. The effect of third party in a conflict is either to destroy or build. But in most cases, they promote aggression which makes it worse. Third party can inspire or catalyze the process of reconciliation and bring it to a wonderful success. It is also true that the third party can prevent the beginning of or terminate a soundly progressing process of reconciliation.
Recalling past offence or injustice with bitterness and anger is another difficult barrier to reconciliation when the mind dwells so much on the offence and the unrepentant attitude of the offender without giving God a space at all, reconciliation becomes a mirage and even entirely out of the question.
Lack of Sincere Remorse
Some people in some cases attach their readiness to forgive and reconcile on the repentance of their offender. Most often we hear people who feel offended saying “forgiving him is not the problem, but let him be remorseful for what he/she did”. And when this remorse is not forthcoming, forgiveness becomes difficult and reconciliation remains far-fetched.
Repetition (Always Offending More)
Most people easily let go at first instance of infringement, but when the situation occurs repeatedly the possibility of reconciliation is most likely to diminish. Often one hears people say, “this is not the first time he is doing it. He is fond of doing that to me and he knows I don’t like it, so to avoid trouble let him stay on his own and I will stay on my own”.
Benefits of Reconciliation
It is not spiritually and physically healthy holding on to bitterness and anger because it can cause problems of its own. Our attitudes, words, and actions either build or rupture our relationship with God and others. Our refusal to forgive is a passive approval of giving the devil opportunity. It is advisable not to give the devil this opportunity. Since by embracing forgiveness, we can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Forgiveness can be a path to physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
When a person forgives and reconciles with those who wrong him, everyone benefits. The Holy Spirit, the author of spiritual joy, operates in the hearts of those who have reconciled. It is not possible to enter into a living contact with living God in moral condition that is repugnant to the divine sight. We need forgiveness and loving hearts to enter into the prayer union with the Holy God. An unforgiving person should not expect forgiveness from God.
Emeka Onodugo is a prospective doctoral candidate in Marketing at University of Lagos, School of Post Graduate Studies.