So, Do We Forgive Evil or Persons Who Perpetrate Evil?
Consider this quotation from the late great Dr. Lewis Smedes:
When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.
I am sure that Dr. Smedes was being poetic to drive home a point about how we are to respond to evil. He was not being literal.
If this is the case, then we need to ask this: Why do we forgive persons and not evil per se? The answer lies in what the essence of forgiveness is. It is a moral virtue and all moral virtues flow out from us to others—to other people—for their good. We are just or fair so that people can live a good life of order rather than chaos. We are patient so that people can correct imperfections, as only one example of how patience is used for good.
When we forgive, it is directly for the other, for the one who was unjust. It gives him or her a chance to correct the evil, to reach for the higher aspects of what it means to be human. Evil is not an entity. It is not a thing. We cannot interact with it. We surely experience its effects, but there is no interaction with it. Instead, there is interaction with people who house the evil, who give it a chance to exist as a deprivation of the good.
Thank you, Dr. Smedes, for your poetic image. It has helped us deepen our understanding of forgiveness.