Nonviolence creates the need for forgiveness time and time again. But what does it mean to forgive someone who has harmed you? That is the question.
Jim Lawson taught that the capacity to forgive was the essence of a nonviolent way of life. But it was not a naivé forgiveness that said “it’s okay” when clearly it was not. Forgiveness in the context of nonviolence is not the minimization of injustice, brushing it aside, or the adoption of a “forgive and forget” attitude. St. Paul forgave his harmers, but he still acknowledged that he bore on his body the marks of his suffering.
Nonviolent forgiveness can be summed up in what St. Paul and St. Peter taught out of the experience of their sufferings: do not return evil for evil (Romans 12:17 and 1 Peter 3:9), and what Jesus modeled as he suffered: that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). Nonviolent forgiveness is not overlooking the offense, it is refusing to use it as a justification for returning an offense back to the one who has harmed you with a “he deserves it after what he did to me” attitude.
Nonviolent forgiveness is doing no harm, directly or indirectly, to the one who has harmed you.