The Obligation to Forgive
We all have an obligation to be just or fair. If you decide to disobey traffic laws, for example, you could get fined or arrested. To be fair is your obligation. Yet, we are not under an obligation to be merciful. For example, if you receive a phone call to contribute to the local food pantry, no one will issue a fine or arrest you for saying “no.”
Yet, I think there are two instances in which mercy (and we turn now specifically to one form of mercy, forgiveness) becomes obligatory. The first instance is your overall pattern of living a life that includes forgiveness. It may be true that you are not under an obligation to forgive *this* particular person on *this* particular day for *this* particular offense, but if you are never forgiving to anyone under any circumstances, there is something there to criticize. Forgiveness, as a part of mercy, is a form of goodness and if it is ignored entirely then an aspect of goodness is ignored entirely. If we are to grow as persons, we are cutting ourselves off from one important pathway to moral growth.
The second instance occurs once you have deeply and consistently practiced forgiveness. Once practiced and accepted as good, forgiveness becomes a part of whom you are as a person. When this happens, to not be forgiving is to contradict the self, to go against who you are. It is here that you hold yourself to the high standard of making this virtue obligatory for you, even when it is difficult to do so. Of course, this does not mean that you quickly jump into the practice of this virtue when you have just been deeply hurt. Instead, the point is that you know you will practice it at some time when you are ready. It seems to me that the more deeply you understand and practice forgiveness, then the more quickly you will be ready even in the face of considerable injustice.