Fall 2015 · Vol. 44 No. 2 · pp. 235–236 

Book Review

Discovering Forgiveness: Pathways through Injury, Apology and Healing

Larry A. Dunn. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2014. 122 pages.

Reviewed by Neil Funk-Unrau

The complexity of this brief exploration of forgiveness is evident from the outset. As Larry Dunn acknowledges in his preface, this book is intended to engage the theologian, the scholar, and the lay reader. It is meant to share some profound universal truths while simultaneously exploring and affirming unique personal journeys toward healing. In the end, readers are left with a slim volume of six short chapters that do not provide any final answers but rather some sustenance and many stories along the way, along with the encouragement to continue to seek our own answers.

The first chapter presents forgiveness as something that can never be clearly defined and measured. For Dunn, forgiveness can only be understood metaphorically, through the acceptance and valuing of ambiguity, paradox, and contradiction. Throughout the rest of the book forgiveness is discussed as an attitude, a discovery, and a gift, among other metaphors, but especially the metaphor of complex and often surprising pathways from injury to healing.

The pathway metaphor then becomes the guiding metaphor for the chapters that follow. In chapter 2, Dunn explores the many possible paths that can be taken and the many unexpected twists for the purposes of withdrawal, for reflection, or simply getting stuck along the way. Chapter 3 focuses on the apology as a significant transition point along the pathway. As the author notes, an apology can mark the transition from disengagement to engagement, from self-focus to relational repair, from injurious past to a healing future.

Chapter 4, perhaps the strongest in the book, then addresses the thorny problem of justice. Injury demands justice, often expressed {236} through atonement, acknowledgement of injury, and remembrance of wrongdoing. However, forgiveness demands a complex process of letting go of memory and remembrance of the injury, a deliberate act of “non-remembering.” Thus we are left with the paradoxical challenge that Dunn presents as the conclusion of the chapter—to let go and non-remember that which can never be forgotten.

After surveying various points along the pathway of forgiveness, Dunn turns in chapter 5 to the “practice of forgiveness,” the hard work of moving along that pathway. Forgiveness is described not as an unreachable ideal but something we do and are on a daily basis. At this stage, Dunn also draws on practice as communal doing and being because it is as a community that we can most deeply engage in this practice. However, here we also confront another paradox—the challenge to actively begin a task that really cannot be planned or executed in any coordinated way at all, that must be accepted as an unexpected gift as it breaks into our lives.

Far from moving the book through to some logical comprehensive conclusion, Dunn ends the book with a chapter that moves “beyond” forgiveness to engage several additional challenges or “problems” along the way. The personal problem challenges us to connect the need for self-forgiveness with the need to forgive the other. The cultural problem probes the difficulty of responding to the cultural dimensions of remembrance and/or forgiveness for communal injustices. The reconciliation problem identifies reconciliation as another destination along that complex, ambiguous pathway, a destination which may or may not be accessible through forgiveness.

Those who read this book expecting to discover a clear travel guide and signposts along the pathway of forgiveness will probably be left profoundly unsettled. Instead, what we have here are the personal stories and reflections of someone walking along the path. The destination is only vaguely visible, the journey to come very uncertain, but we will be enriched by the stories along the way, the pearls of wisdom scattered here and there. This book is meant to be slowly absorbed and pondered as each of us discovers our own pathway of forgiveness.

Neil Funk-Unrau
Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution Studies
Menno Simons College, Winnipeg, Manitoba