Don’t get mad, get even. It’s a mantra that seems to be acceptable nowadays; and while not quite at the level of WH Auden’s poem which says “Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return,” it does seem that many people are comfortable with the notion of hitting back.

Where does this fit in to a so-called Christian society, a faith at which forgiveness is at the very heart?

The simple prayer of Jesus on the Cross, “Father, forgive them…” and the very notion that he died there to take on the sins of the world form the very basis of the Christian faith.

Perhaps forgiveness should be a very simple concept; it isn’t.

Far from it. It’s complexity tests theologians who forever debate about the order of repentance and the offer of forgiveness; and while there are many areas of our current lives which see us struggle with negative feelings towards those who have wronged us, the violence of our troubled land is a particular focus for reaction to hurt which affects all of society.

Across Northern Ireland, there are thousands of people still living with the pain of bereavement after needlessly losing loved ones in a horrible conflict. Thousands more who survived are still suffering physically and mentally; I was reminded recently of one man who still suffers flashbacks several decades on.

The brutality of it all has left many of our people in different stages on their journey; whether it be forgiving, anger, bitterness, even hatred, or even just coping.

This month at the 4 Corners Festival in Clonard Monastery in Belfast, Canon David Porter reflected on forgiveness. The man with a Baptist and Presbyterian background is now Chief of Staff and Strategy for the Archbishop of Canterbury and was involved in talks across the divide for years.

I watched his talk on the Slugger O’Toole website and found it inspiring; he said that despite “thousands of words written … on the theme of forgiveness as it relates to … Northern Ireland … here we are, all those years later, and we still cannot find a way to talk to each other about the harm that we did for each other over 40 years. We no longer have that vocabulary, despite our high practice of Christian faiths and our commitment to follow in the way of the one who while we were still his enemies loved us and died for us and bought our forgiveness.”

Also within the past week, I’ve been reminded of another story from the conflict. I was given a Christmas present of the Rev. David Latimer’s book “A Leap of Faith” and found it an amazing story of the friendship between the Presbyterian Minister and Martin McGuinness.

It’s a friendship which defied all odds. As a young man from a background of mixing mainly with Protestants, David Latimer saw the suffering of neighbours and work colleagues who died at the hands of the IRA. Indeed, as a British Army chaplain he saw shocking scenes of mutilated soldiers in Afghanistan.

Yet in his role as Minister of First Derry Presbyterian, he forged a meaningful friendship with Irish Republican icon.

The book gives a real sense of the journey Martin McGuinness took in the later part of his life in reaching out to the Unionist community, in particular his affectionate relationship with the Rev. Ian Paisley.

As regards his friendship with David Latimer, there is one remarkable account of how Martin McGuinness spoke in First Derry Presbyterian church to a congregation which included victims of the IRA.

Mr Latimer recalls: “A former IRA leader of Martin’s stature was not only inside a Protestant church, but he was speaking from the same area at the front of the church where the coffins of five First Derry church members, all killed by the IRA, had rested.”

As I read David’s book, I got a sense of the real leadership of both men in reaching out and to undertake initiatives to bring people together.

It wasn’t easy for David Latimer; he accepts that some families stopped attending his church and there was a mixed reaction of support and opposition in his correspondence. He was also prevented by the powers-that-be from speaking at a homecoming service for British soldiers that he had been pastor to in their darkest time.

He recalls his decision to speak at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis was a result of his strong desire for peace and reconciliation, yet when he was in a newspaper shop the next morning, he caught sight of the News Letter’s bold headline: “Latimer walks on victims’ graves.”

He felt these words were cruel and untrue.

I wonder sometimes about the discourse we engage in. What the late loyalist leader David Ervine referred to as “bellicose ranting”, where both sides in a divided society feel the other side is the “devil incarnate.”

We teeter between forgiveness and bitter recrimination. The perceived wisdom is often that anger and bitterness, however justified by real hurt, damages the victim rather than the perpetrator.

Mindful Christianity Today, a Facebook account, posted this: anger “is a punishment that we give ourselves, for someone’s else’s mistake.”

Yet, we understand the emotion of hurt and don’t feel worthy or strong enough to speak about people who are entrapped by it. It would be crass and insensitive to simply tell them to move on.

Indeed, people who reach out to the other side and suggest that feelings of revenge are leading us on a dangerous path are often attacked themselves. There are people who publically state that some of us don’t even deserve an opinion.

But this is my community which is damaged, this is the place where I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in with a healthy bright future. Since when did peace and reconciliation become a weakness, or even something to be scoffed at? The idea of loving one’s enemies is a Christian principle which many people conveniently forget.

Aside from the Troubles, people are being hurt day and daily in their ordinary lives. Whether it be domestic violence, defrauding someone or simply harsh words and actions which leave people feeling vulnerable, lonely or hurt.

It’s human nature to have negative feelings towards them, and it’s incredibly hard to follow the maxim: “Weak people revenge. Strong people forgive. Intelligent people ignore.”

I wouldn’t dream of telling everyone they should forgive, nor would I downplay anyone’s anger.

Everyone’s journey should be respected and everyone should be given space.

Somehow, though, we need to realise and recognise all hurt, all past wrongs and reach out to each other if a divided society is to share this place in peace.