The Outrageous Act of ForgivenessMarshall Shelley is the associate editor of Leadership magazine.

Lewis Smedes depicts forgiveness as the only way to heal the hurt we never deserved.

Should Jane forgive her husband? It is neither an idle question nor an easy answer. Consider:

Jane and Ralph had finally brought their three children through the crazy maze of adolescence, and Jane was ready to have a life of her own again But tragedy struck. Ralph’s younger brother and his wife were killed in a car crash, leaving three children: ages 8, 10, and 12.

Ralph had a strong sense of duty; he knew that it was his sacred calling to take his brother’s orphaned children in. Jane was too compassionate or too tired to disagree, she never did know which. Jane did most of the parenting since Ralph was gone a lot, traveling for his company. Nine years later, the second crop of kids raised and gone, Jane thought at last she was home free.

Not quite. Jane’s body had gotten a little lumpy by this time, while Ralph’s secretary, Sue, was a dazzler; besides, Sue really understood his large male needs. How could he help falling in love? He and Sue knew their love was too true to be denied. So Ralph divorced Jane and married Sue.

Ralph and his new wife were happy, and their convivial, accepting church affirmed and celebrated their newfound joy with them. But Ralph needed one more stroke of acceptance to make his life complete. So he called Jane to ask her to forgive him, to be glad with him, to rejoice in his new happiness.

“I want you to bless me,” he said.

“I want you to go to hell,” she replied.

As usual, reality is the surest antidote for pat answers (especially if the question is forgiveness). In his new book, Forgive and Forget (Harper & Row, 1984), ...

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