“Anger and Forgiveness” by Reinhold Niebuhr


A painting portraying one of the truces declared on Christmas Eve/Day during WWI. Source: Google image online search.

The following quote is from a sermon by Reinhold Niebuhr entitled “Anger and Forgiveness,” available in the book “Discerning the Signs of the Times: Sermons for Today and Tomorrow” (New York: Scribener’s, 1946).

Niebuhr’s guidance, based (in part) on the biblical imperative, “Don’t let the sun set on your anger,” hold promise, if applied, for reconciliation amongst individuals, families, groups and nations. Too often, it seems, a healed and hopeful future is precluded by a lack of forgiveness over past wrongs, previous offenses, prior injustices.

Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting, but reconciliation cannot take place if the offended party refuses to forgive the offender–or if forgiveness is offered in the present but the prior offenses are held in reserve for future use against the offender.

Progress toward a more hopeful future cannot happen if the offender is never granted a fresh start upon repentance.

“It is important to resist evil in the immediate instance; but it also wise not to allow the memory of the evil to poison all future relationships. The admonition, ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,’ may be too rigorous to be obeyed literally. But the general intention behind the advice is sound.

The more the heats and passions of conflict abate, the more terrible becomes the calculated hatred which preserves the viewpoints of the day of battle into the days of peace.

We must finally be reconciled with our foe, lest we both perish in the viscous circle of hatred. To this reconciliation belongs a forgetfulness of the past which gives the foe a chance to prove the better resources of his life….Anger against evil is the necessary immediate reaction; but long-range considerations require that anger be abated in order that we may, in soberness of spirit, seek the best means of restoring the evil-doer to moral health.”


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