|Why is forgiveness so important?Isn't it something that just crops up now
and then, say when your partner's been unfaithful, you had a cruel or selfish parent, or
your employer overlooked you for a promotion?
Forgiveness is one of the most
constant and fundamental concerns for anyone seeking human and spiritual growth. It
is about the attitude and action we take in response to all human faults, failings,
mistakes, inadequacies, etc. Not only those faults which have hurt us personally,
but any situations where we desire to help people overcome these failings in themselves,
or their effect on others.
answer with links
Your question is a very helpful one. It allows us to
look at how original and creative forgiveness can and should be - very often we just
haven't seen this yet, and so we 'domesticate' forgiveness. Forgiving means wanting
people - including yourself - to be more free, happy and creative, not reduced to the
level of their mistakes and wrongs; and it also means doing something about it.
Forgiveness means not defining someone in terms of the wrongs they have done; and not
defining yourself in terms of the injuries you have received.
Forgiveness is central to
goodness It generates
its own atmosphere, world-view and value-system. (Check The values implied by forgiveness after reading this.)
That's why forgiveness is a major underlying issue for large social organisations
and international debt as much as domestic or one-to-one relationships. Forgiveness
is the fundamental way in which people can always put the 'person' before the deeds they
There are different levels of activity in forgiveness. Sometimes all we can do
is let resentment go and stop seeing someone as bad. Sometimes we can want better
things for someone else, and be happy for them. Sometimes we can do positive,
creative things to give people fresh opportunities, to release and empower them.
(See The dimensions of forgiveness
Forgiveness is central to
being a person If we
sense or discover the latent power in forgiveness, 'person' isn't just another label to
apply to something. Calling someone a person implicates us - it means, "I want
to relate to this person, and deepen our relationship, not avoid him or
her." It's a word which commits us to costly action, openness and
involvement. Sadly, of course, the easier way is to label them in destructive ways
which seem to allow us to ignore them. (If you have time, read through the whole of
the article, The dimensions of
Forgiveness seems a weak, soft thing - surely it's
not for the strong, confident achiever?
isn't it only for
answer: It's true that forgiveness is
often portrayed in TV soaps, popular news etc as 'giving in' for the sake of peace.
Perhaps often in the way people pray, too. We need to learn a lot more about what
strong forgiveness can achieve and create.
answer with links
Your question expresses why Friedrich Nietzsche saw
Christian 'virtues' as forms of weakness and cowardice, ways in which its adherents
collude to cover up "their inability to courageously achieve revenge." (He
would emphasise the word 'courageously.') Forgiveness can certainly be used as an
excuse (see Wanting to calm
my fears). So let's see if we can understand how this popular view of
forgiveness domesticates and distorts what it involves.
The (very tough) Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Forgiveness is always a 'top-down'
action, by people with the power to set others free. (See The power to initiate forgiveness �/a>.)
Such persons with power may or may not have been wronged personally. But they
will be members of a community or society which views the wrongdoer as
a wrongdoer. This view may mean criminal conviction or political division. It
may mean cheap fault-finding in the popular media, or careless gossip about someone who is
not "our kind of person." (We all belong to so many groups which find
fault with others and condemn them.)
To be forgiving you need to be in a shared starting point with victims of wrongdoing,
and you also need to have - or to find - the potential to bring some release to wrongdoers
and other victims. You need to be in solidarity with the hurt ... and then also
discover or own your solidarity with the guilty as well. (See A community of
guilt.) Because of this shared starting point, the setting free involved in
forgiving is both connected to, but different from, liberating oppressed people in another
community or country; and connected to, but different from medical or inner healing.
At a personal level finding the power to forgive may involve leading wrongdoer and
victim to a reconciliation. It should always aim for public mutual understanding and
respect, at the least. In institutions and organisations it may involve leading
members to both appreciate and to let go of past practices and personal management
loyalties in order to embrace a new context for work and to live out more appropriate and
successful forms of the core vision which animates them.
And in fact, even in those simple examples in a TV soap or a movie mentioned at the
beginning, ones where a character forgives his or her romantic partner, the forgiver has
move from a self-perception as the victim, the weaker partner, to a new level of
self-confidence. Perhaps this has been prompted by time to remember the many good
things in the relationship, perhaps helped by outside counselling. And at the
largest level, when a political opposition forgives an oppressive regime, it will be, say,
from a position of military or democratic success, or after achieving international
These are not weak responses, but changes of attitude with the desire for affirmed,
renewed people in a better working environment in the future. They are not a return
to the old, damaging situation, but they are creative and forward-looking.
By the way, any third parties -
counsellors, family friends, outside business consultants, international negotiators - who
assist people to forgive are not themselves engaged in the work of forgiveness. But
they are certainly liberators - releasing the wounded and empowering them to forgive their
'oppressors' or hurtful friends.
are some sins too
big for forgiveness?
|Are some wrongs harder to forgive than others?
answer: As long as we put ourselves
in a position of judge, we will think in terms of equivalent response (punishment or
retribution). Bigger wrongs would therefore need bigger punishments ... and also
bigger acts of forgiveness. But forgiveness looks further than people's actions - it
always asks us, "What can I do to make this person's life better?"
answer with links Does
justice seek equivalence or destruction? Our aims in the arena of justice and fairness may
seem to be - in theory - a measured, tit-for-tat response. In practice we may find
that victory, the destruction or banishment of the wrongdoer, is preferred. Even if
we do work towards a measured response or equivalence, then although restitution was a
preferred ancient model (the wrongdoer paying back the victim in appropriate measure), as
states took over all legal functions of civilised life retribution - painful punishment,
causing hurt to the wrongdoer - became the norm.
The death penalty is the most obvious example of a retributive punishment that
terminates the prospect of transformation in the wrongdoer or in the whole situation where
harm was introduced. Murder is often viewed as a sin which is 'too big' for
forgiveness. (See Seeing into a killer's mind.) But any labelling -
even gossip - condemns wrongdoers to a treadmill of mistreatment. See The 'no-name' game �/a>.)
contemporary movement advocating restorative justice suggests how much more creative
restitution is. Unlike retributive responses to crime, restitution has the potential
to repair the financial and perhaps relational harms that crime has left in its aftermath.
It is a form of creativity, of transformation and enlargement of life.
Forgiveness shares this with restorative justice. And an important strand in real
forgiveness also recognises that transformation is hard work. Discipline is rarely
practised or understood by caring and religious professions that often claim a special
concern for forgiveness. Discipline means leading a wrongdoer to self-knowledge,
responsibility and a degree of brokenness, and helping her or him to rebuild relationships
or form new ones. (See Discipline and punishment, Reconciliation
is the goal.) The word 'righteous, applied to God, originally meant 'someone who
makes others right.' (See The
place of anger in enduring love �.)
Where forgiveness differs from restorative justice is that it involves a
transformation of the injured persons or members of the wronged society, as well as
transformation of the wrongdoer. Most people tend to find forgiving powerful people
much harder than forgiving relatively powerless people. "She should have known
better," "He could have done so much good, and instead ... " contrast with,
"He didn't really mean to do what he did," "She just didn't know where to
turn," etc. This is a correct reaction - being able to forgive does require a
(relatively) high level of power. (See Should forgiveness be unconditional? �5)
But rather than humbly acknowledging we are not in a position to do much forgiving in
this situation, and seeking or hoping that we will be one day (even to be in a position to
reform an institution), we tend to make the aim of forgiving - which we are not yet able
to contribute to - into a regulation and requirement that the wrongdoer has to meet first.
In other words: "I can't help him, so he has to do it himself."
Whatever else that attitude displays, it is not any kind of forgiveness! People
committed to forgiveness have a greater realism about human frailty (it was Jesus who said
"No one is good but God alone" [Mark 10.18]).
do I do when I can't let it go?
can't let it go?
answer: We tend to trap
ourselves in permanent defensiveness when we try to 'let go' of (i.e. jettison) the people
who have wronged us, rather than letting go what they did. Aim to be open to
some kind of relationship with the other person or people, while letting go of seeing them
only in terms of what they did. And while letting go of defining yourself by what
answer with links
Very many people struggle with the issue you are raising.
When we aren't able to forgive someone, we tend to see the person and 'what they
did wrong' as one and the same thing. So we think that letting go of the hurt and
wound also means 'letting go' (i.e. in practice rejecting or abandoning) the person too!
The other person, or the
hurt? Well, it's this
that causes many difficulties in letting go! There is a chicken-and-egg here: We can
only even want to let go the hurts and wrongs if in some way we want relationships to be
restored or transformed. For some people their beliefs and sense of self inspire a
desire not to continue to be cruel - (see What motivates us to forgive #3). Yet we can only
find the courage to want this if our relationships improve. For a lot of people this
happens through an experience of healing relationship with people other than the wrongdoer
- with God or with a beloved friend. (See You are forgiven #18.)
By saying there is a chicken-and-egg, we
are acknowledging than very often we cannot do it ourselves. We are in the hands of
other people's goodness, too. We have to be 'lucky' with good friends; or surprised
by God or by joy. Part of the spiritual dimension of 'letting go' lies in owning
this dimension to human life and daring to hope for a deeper human dependence on other
people. So if it is proving hard to be courageous with one person or group who may
have been damaging, see what steps you can take to open out to new ones. (See Letting go hatred for the
Take care when with new friends not to
rubbish or belittle the people who wronged you. Acknowledge your own failings, and
hope to be empowered to be courageous - eventually - with those who wronged you. Be
more aware that letting go of another's errors and wrongdoing will only be rewarding to
you and to others when you also let go of your own claim to superiority. (See Being true to myself
Institutional survival Letting go is not always a virtue. It
can be decisive and good as an inner spiritual journey of discovery falling, yet
falling into the arms of God or of Life. But it can be done wrongly, used as a
technique for keeping the institution on the rails, and therefore jettisoning people in
the name of letting go. The mantra "No one is indispensable" is often a
good sign of this false forgiveness (see The values implied by forgiveness #5). And it is vividly illustrated by an
episode in The Godfather II, where Hyman Roth tells Michael that "When I
heard you had killed my friend Mo Green, I let it go." Why? "It had
nothing to do with business." (See Letting it go - coldly.)
correcting a false
|should I correct someone's false words about me?
keep bumping into an acquaintance from the past, who takes every opportunity to remind me
of my mistakes and put me in the dock. Yet though I have acknowledged I
messed up badly, what he says now is not true. Should I try to correct him, as
kindly as possible?"
Short answer: Truth
matters, but only when it is second to love. If you want to show forgiveness, then
your primary concern is always seeking to strengthen your relationship with him or her, so
that you can help in some way ... including bringing in right judgement. It cannot
be to defend yourself. Starting from a position of response to accusation, rather
than initiating a helpful visit, tends to dictate what happens thereafter. So it's
wiser to seek to change the subject to a positive one for both of you.
answer with links
The claim to be "Just speaking the truth" has
become one of the main cries of our media-conscious society, a first level justification
for tearing other people to shreds! See, for example, Truth is not the end, Staying alive and The use we make of truth on
the Images + Words page, and the passage by C S Lewis included in The 'no-name' game �/a>.) When it comes to bringing
in truthful views of lives and situations, theres a big difference between starting
to do this initiating in a helpful, compassionate way, and retaliating or
responding because of what someone says. Even if you mean to be kind, the given
situation of responding means that you will probably be perceived by the other person as
guarding yourself rather than helping him.
Real forgiveness is not soft. Working out details of a history particles
of the whole truth is vital when someone wants to be forgiven and restored.
Its not a condition of your giving him or her forgiveness, but it is a condition for
him or her if they are to receive it deep down. There is a kind of spiritual surgery going
on here, to help a mistaken person to get free of entanglements, errors and flawed
assumptions or desires. (See the whole article Good judgement and bad judgement.)
But this helpful process can only begin because he or she wants forgiveness. If
someone comes to you as an accuser, they almost certainly havent yet realised their
own need for forgiveness, their own bigotries or inaccuracies, fears or failings.
We often play through interior monologues about this. Try this example. I
can imagine meeting an old colleague, and getting a slightly frosty comment. Something
like, "So I see youre still drinking?" What should I say to
that? A bit of me still wants to retaliate, to say something like, "And I see
youre still a judgmental hypocrite who feels better when you highlight other
peoples failing!" Or else to be defensive, and to say something like,
"No, nowadays I hardly drink at all
Initiating forgiveness here does not mean starting by addressing the truth of an
accusation, but by affirming the relationship at a level I believe I can hold up my end
in. In other words, I may not feel I can cope with the old form of relationship, but
can handle a polite, acquaintance-like one. Or I may sense or know that
the old relationship is what I now am called to, and I can open my heart to this stern
critic without fear. These are levels of forgiveness, which relate to my own power
and powerlessness, authority and lack of it.
A good action from a good heart will always respond to miserable, belittling words with
a change of subject, whether accomplished with smiles and grace or stuttered. What
is not a good action from a good heart is to say or do anything which makes the meeting
into an act of termination, closure or censure on my part.
Christian forgiveness different from other kinds?
a unique Christian
answer: The aim of forgiveness is restoring
and deepening relationships, so relationship with a personal God is likely to be different
from other ones. However, Christian churches often cling on to this obsessively, and
tend to ignore or overlook their own ordinariness and apparent incapacity to develop the
power of forgiving.
answer with links
are two main things to say here. 1
The focus of Jesus On the one
hand, the figure of Jesus stands out as an extraordinary and radical person who gave an
exceptionally high profile to forgiveness. (See The power to initiate forgiveness �/a>.) He not only
taught it, but delivered it, and it is very understandable when people call him a source
of forgiveness. He also - counter to the religious authorities of his time who
tried to reserve forgiveness to God alone - empowered and encouraged other human beings to
forgive again and again. Most of what anyone would want to understand or experience
about forgiveness is conveyed by his teaching and recorded actions. The most quoted
of all Bible verses (John 3.16 "God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten
Son ...") is a sensational illustration of initiated forgiveness - undeserved mercy
to people in a mess.
2 The church's lack of focus On the other hand, the church so often has
restricted its view of forgiveness to the experience of being forgiven (by God). So
it has given undue emphasis to penance and repentance as steps towards to finding God's
forgiveness. It treats being forgiven as ineffable and almost mystical, and also as
rare, as if the reality and joy of forgiveness isn't something it's very familiar with.
(See throughout the article You
are forgiven.) But most seriously, it has seldom if ever looked at its own role
and performance as the provider of empowering forgiveness.
Ironically, then, the religious attitude of
reserving forgiveness to God alone - which Jesus so opposed - has come to dominate church
practice. Perhaps the centuries of teaching about how different Jesus was has
artificially polarised church members, creating a 'him and us' mentality? Certainly
Jesus' main teaching that to be forgiven you must forgive is not commonly practised by
church authorities. (See When churches prevent God' forgiveness.)
Individually, some saintly Christians provide remarkable and stunning
examples of forgiving, but little attention is given to creating and building communities
which provide and enable forgiveness for others. (See A place for forgiveness to aim
for.) The work by teachers such as John MacArthur or Gregory Jones, or the
practice of communities such as Taiz� or Sojourners, stand as important exceptions to
this statement. But David Jenkins realised, when Bishop of Durham, "So much
churchgoing is just religious practices and not godly living and godly exploring."
Relationship with God We can also realise that, because full forgiveness
means the new and healthy restoration of relationships, Christianity teaches that this
means relationship with God, too, and by definition this is different from non-religious
examples of restored relationship. God is believed to be - and expected to be -
radically forgiving: Catholic thinker Edward Schillebeeckx inspirationally defined God by
saying, "God is new every moment." God always has a fresh approach, not
restricting people to their pasts and labels; and also God is indefinable, always 'person'
rather than a label. Christians are often unwilling to learn that this is something
Christianity shares with other religions, though.
constant focus on
|Why does society focus any concerns about forgiveness largely on
answer: Being secure in our sexual identity is
at the heart of all personal identity. We often cling onto sexual institutions
(marriage, etc) to make our identity for us, and the loss of an institutional identity
seems to take away our very soul.
answer with links
Westernised society today does not often view sexual activity as sinful in itself,
although there is often embarrassment when we are confronted with more unusual forms.
Mainstream religions have also become more tolerant, partly adapting to social
pressure, partly through learning from human developmental science. So speaking
about 'sexual sin' really means speaking about wrong-doing which happens to have a sexual
aspect. This can mean criminal behaviour (for example, rape or the abuse of
children). But usually it means infidelity in established partnerships.
Marriage and personal
identity Marriage was
historically a property contract, and an alarmingly male-biased one. Today's society
usually wants to replace this with the idea of an equal, relational partnership, and
certainly the 'theft of one's property' does not seem to underlie today's enthusiastic
focus on publicly 'outing' infidelity.
Infidelity will seem to be the biggest wrong imaginable to anyone for whom 'being
married' or 'bonded' is the most important thing in his or her life - and this is the
situation for a large percentage of humanity. Marriage can seem to be more important
than spirituality, or generosity or wisdom - or forgiveness. Young adults hope to
step out of their insecurities into secure identity by becoming 'married' - and this is
only a modified version of the hopes invested in property contracts in past eras.
In other words, what is at stake in infidelity is the loss of my own personal identity,
my sense of self and worth. (Sometimes this is helpfully re-interpreted as a modern
issue about property - what is 'proper' to me - to convey our sense of theft and
loss. See The place of anger in
enduring love �/a>. Also visit the FAQ about self-worth on this page.) Let's explore a little how
this need to establish personal identity works out in sexual bonding.
identity Responses to
the issue of infidelity in the westernised world are ambivalent. Between friends,
office colleagues etc a liberal tolerance is normal. People are familiar with the
scale of marital break-up, and they are well-meaning if often embarrassed towards glbt
(gay/lesbian/ bisexual/transsexual) unions.
Yet the thrust of tabloid journalism and participatory TV chat shows is to pull in
people determined to 'beat up' their unfaithful partners in as public a way as
possible. Participants endlessly repeat the cry "He/she has hurt me so
much." In a media culture, encouraging fault-finding and litigation, being a
victim has become the most powerful person to be. "I am a victim, therefore I
exist, I matter." (See the insight Victims who purchase compassion.) When someone has
placed a high priority on finding themselves in and through (the institution of) marriage
and lost this, they can re-establish a sense of identity as a victim - or even a chat-show
Getting away with it Personal wrongs and mistakes in the areas
of sex and financial sleaze make up the staple diet of gossip, TV soaps and tabloid
headlines, and forgiveness rarely appears as an issue in these. However, tabloid
journalism and 'gossip-TV' now market and profit hugely from not only the vicarious
involvement in other people's sexual pleasure, but also the pleasure of involvement in
other people's fame and power.
This produces the strange hypocrisy that while many public figures lose their careers
through 'friends' who kiss and tell, nonetheless if you're big enough a star, and powerful
enough, these stories become part of your celebrity. Because you're successful, and
also because your identity is bigger than your career or profession, you 'get away with
The culture of success and prosperity most of us inhabit (and which the underdeveloped
world is learning from the West) means that our core value is not compassion, creativity
or helpfulness, but 'getting away with it.' And since everyone commits many wrongs
and makes many mistakes, not being publicly criticised or punished ... and at the same
time being able to find fault with someone else ... provides most people with their sense
of achievement! Again, this shows us that what is most at stake is the matter of
trying to find or keep personal identity.
|Doesn't forgiving often mean losing my sense of self-worth?
answer: For people who don't
have a lot of self-worth, or who have had it taken away, the stronger levels of
forgiveness are not usually possible. They belong at the end of a process of
healing, not the beginning. If hurried in this kind of situation, forgiveness can
easily be distorted into a sell-out, condoning a wrong for the sake of 'keeping
peace.' The real thing is only possible when you have become empowered.
answer with links
This question goes deep. Self-worth - being happy and
comfortable with who you are, not needing popularity or public power - is essential if you
are to be able to forgive. (See the quote An assertion of
dignity.) If you don't have a lot of self-worth, you will probably fear that
your forgiveness would further damage your self-respect, and may amount to condoning the
wrong. When as a mob we bay for 'justice' - meaning punishment - part of what is
driving us is our own sense of inadequacy or powerlessness generally, and the glee of
getting something 'right' by pinning someone down into a set of labels and procedures.
People who have been hurt by another's wrongdoing very often lose their sense of
worth. This is different from the 'professional victims' who kiss-and-tell, or who
populate the tabloid press and media. (See the insight Victims who purchase
compassion.) When you are wronged by an organisation or institution, you feel
even more paralysed and intimidated. Whistle-blowers who try to speak out against
institutional abuses really do receive threats - even death threats.
Before I can be in a position to do much real healthy, creative forgiving, I will
almost always need to recognise that I have basic human rights, which have violated.
And I will need to allow myself to feel and express anger and sorrow. Then I
will reflect on the wrongdoer's attitudes and failure to manage her or his actions
responsibly. Do I want the wrongdoer to be removed for a period of time, protecting
myself (or society)? What sort of outcome can I aim for? Am I strong enough
yet to face the offender? Do I want some form of restitution - an apology, or
This kind of process is healing, and increases our sense of self-worth. But
forgiveness has only just started at this point. Reflecting a bit further on the
wrongdoer's attitudes and failure to manage her or his actions responsibly leads me to
concern, compassion, and the ability to recognise that "there but for the grace of
God go I." (See There
indeed by the grace of God go I.) Can I do anything to help this person manage
her or his life better?
Margaret Holmgren, who wanted to forgive her own father and who has
explored these question very wisely in essays including an article for the Forgiveness
Institute (see Useful web links), says
of the later stages of this process of real forgiving:
"We can recognise that the offender is a valuable human being like ourselves, who
struggles with the same needs, pressures, and confusions that we struggle with. We can
think about his circumstances and come to understand why he did what he did. In doing so,
we will recognise that the incident really may not have been about us in the first place.
Instead it was about the wrongdoer's misguided attempt to meet his own needs."
|Don't people have to earn forgiveness - to show they've suffered and
answer: Wanting a wrongdoer to show
repentance first may be understandable, but it expresses our underlying desire for her or
him to suffer and squirm some more. More retributive punishment than
forgiveness. In reaching out to full forgiveness, the emphasis we need to be
concerned with is not on what the wrongdoer needs to do but on whether or not we
have the power to transform her or his situation and attitude.
answer with links
For a thorough longer answer, visit the page Should forgiveness be unconditional?
That page should help us discover that the desire to see someone else squirm is a
direct reflection of our own lack of ability to make the situation any better - an issue
of power and powerlessness. It is of course telling that most of us no longer expect
to do the punishing ourselves. We leave it up to 'them' (institutional authorities)
to do the hurting. (See the introduction to these issues in Justice through
People involved with Christian churches
either today or as children sometimes feel uncomfortable when they glimpse that, by
contrast, Jesus did give a unique emphasis on grace and unmerited forgiveness, one which
sets the standard for all approaches to justice and forgiveness.
Philip Yancey, the editor of Christianity
Today, said that what defines the bourgeois mind-set in almost all society's
institutions, from schools to multi-nationals and certainly churches, is "the
insistence that we earn our way". (See The power to initiate forgiveness �.) By the 19th
century, work and wealth were taken to imply a higher implicit moral status, an assumption
which conservative strands in society still make today.
This medieval concern with 'works' is
expressed in the moralities which influenced Shakespeare, and Shakespeare's presentation
of forgiveness places a similar emphasis on winning pardon by good works, suffering and
repentance. (See Shakespeare and forgiveness.) But they are not
usually punishments or penances imposed by other authorities, in the way that the Catholic
Church and then the penal system undertook to 're-form' their clients.
Ask yourself what kind of change you
would wish to see in a wrong-doer. To become a damaged, depressed or incapacitated
reject; or to become a loving, compassionate, generous and creative person? Then ask
yourself: What kind of approach to his or her wrongdoing is likely to generate the
reformation you want to see?
|Will I ever be able to forget what happened?
will I forget?
answer: Don't expect to forget
it. The proverbial remedies "Forgive and forget" and "Forget and move
on" are terribly misleading. Many people may try to ignore what happened,
trying to bury it in the sand and saying they have forgotten and forgiven. But often
all they are burying in the sand is their head, like an ostrich. Forgiving means
working with what has happened - the actions and reactions, and the people who wronged you
- not walking away.
answer with links
Victims of wrongdoing, and also perpetrators, often report
replaying episodes and incidents in their minds, like video-tapes. They have
imaginary conversations with their attackers. This is normal and a healthy part of
moving into forgiveness.
What happened won't go away - except through natural ageing and forgetfulness!
'Never forgetting' is part of the Jewish response to the Holocaust, just as 'remembering'
is a definitive activity for the Jewish people. (See Forgiveness for the Holocaust?) It is not possible
to eradicate the events - the joys and sorrows - of a human life. But it does not
need to define the persons involved, or subsequent relationships they may endeavour to
form. One strand in popular Christian piety suggests that "God forgets, so we
can too," referring to Jeremiah 31.34 or Hebrews 10.17. John
MacArthur looks at this very clearly, showing that what happens is that God chooses to not
remember or bring up the mistake or wrong - within a continuing relationship with the
wrongdoer. (See Forgive and forget.) What matters takes place
within the continuing relationship between wronged and wrongdoer.
In this sense, God and human people can forget the labels attached to others.
John Donne vividly spoke of forgetting the 'labels' which adhere to sinners - i.e. all of
us (see This man is
forgiven). Labelling is at the deadly heart of alienating and destroying human
life. It was used particularly in Nazi Germany and then Rwanda, where political and
racial opponents used the labels of disgust - 'cockroach,' 'vermin,' etc - to justify
unbearable inhuman genocide. (See Disgust and oppression.)
Trying to forget, and wanting to forget, are aims which a very false kind of 'letting
go' fosters in us, one geared to promoting institutional survival. (See the FAQ Can't let it go? on this page.)
Forgetting should be a mutual decision to set aside what went wrong. But
institutions can often forget their members, abandoning them and moving away. (See The values
implied by forgiveness #5.)
To disremember can be a deliberate political act, a re-writing of history.
It's important to be clear how
different forgetting a wrong action or behaviour is from forgetting a whole person and
relationship. The Danish thinker S鴕en Kierkegaard gave a powerful description of
how someone can develop the 'trick' of walking away from you - rejecting you - while
managing to turn her or his face towards you. He or she says "Here I am"
while all the time getting further away! (See Good intentions
which conceal rejection.)
|Can I be reconciled with someone who doesn't want it?
question: I need to ask
something about forgiveness and reconciliation. What if one party wants to express
forgiveness and hopefully be reconciled with a person? But the other person does not
want to be found. What do you do about forgiveness on both parties' sides?
What do you do next?
answer by Rabbi Yehudah Fine
(anchoring the live forgiveness conference a few
years ago at the Addiction and Recovery Forum on AOL; reproduced with permission)
Let me say that if one party is missing in action they "ARE MISSING" in
action! There's nothing you can do in terms of direct reconciliation except one very
powerful thing. That is, to let go and let God! (grant healing grace).
Forgiveness transports us into a new vision, a new reality where we come in direct contact
with the healing compassionate grace of our spirit and treat ourselves and the world with
clarity, reverence, and love.
Reconciliation presupposes and willingness on both parties to understand and
forgive. Forgiveness is never found through "I'm sorry, " or "I
didn't mean to." When someone has hurt another, the impact and remorse must be
felt and directly experienced by both parties involved - the one seeking forgiveness and
the one who can grant forgiveness. Reconciliation does not mean putting yourself at
risk or chasing after the person who hurt you in order somehow to rehabilitate them.
Reconciliation, while wonderful, is a separate department in the universe of
forgiveness. And it has limits and boundaries.
If you've tried and not succeeded and if you've made efforts then you can let go!
And hope some day, with a prayerful heart that things will come together. The long awaited
pouring out of the heart will unfold.
But that does not mean that you
have to live your life filled with unfinished business. We all live our life with
unfinished business,but there are things that you can do to dedicate your life to
reconcile. Simply put, every time you reconcile an issue with another person, set
aside a little prayer that is dedicated to that other person that you wish to gain clarity
with some day. And every opportunity where you remove ill feelings from your heart,
send that, too, out into the world of prayer to help make the world a little more whole
and better. The Talmud teaches that no prayer is ever lost.
it responsible to say "It's not your fault"?
it's not your fault?
answer: The questioner wanted someone close to
her to face up to his responsibilities, rather than blame other people for his or her
wrong behaviour. However, in serious forgiving we want all parties to recognise
their responsibilities for what happened, yet work together constructively to transform
the situation and/or the personal failings. This shared concern with resolution
helps us realise that forgiveness is about a worldview of shared responsiblity rather than
merely individual actions.
answer with links
Saying Its not your fault can be a
whitewash, or a major positive turning point. It's not a magic phrase by itself, any
more than saying "Sorry." There are many aspects - for example, in Gus van
Sant's movie Good Will Hunting therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) says this
to client Will Hunting (Matt Damon) at a climactic moment of release.
Often, it is a way of stepping towards forgiveness, a cautious and helpful first step
when you feel you cant yet be intimate or mutual with people who have wronged
you. Saying it speaks a worldview or theory, and helps the other person or persons
to enter that worldview, yet does not commit you to close intimacy with them if you feel
you dont want this or that (in some cases) it would not be safe to do so. Or
indeed if it is impossible - like Jesus' last words from the Cross Father,
forgive them for they dont know what they are doing.
Your concern about not helping someone to take responsibility is important. But
we often oversimplify social life into one where everyone acts on their own - the catholic
clich� "Love the sinner; hate the sinner" assumes a naive world in which there
are just individuals and their record of actions - the bourgeois, consumer-class
society. Philip Yancey
wisely observes that what defines this bourgeois mind-set in almost all society's
institutions, from schools to multi-nationals and certainly churches, is "the
insistence that we earn our way", so that not only is it economic success which
creates our assumed standard of superiority but that more generally our deeds earn or
merit their consequences (What's so amazing about grace? p 36). We earn our
rewards, we deserve our punishments. We judge people almost entirely by what they
Forgiveness belongs with a somewhat
different value system, one where responsibility is shared. Not one where there is
the saying might seem to suggest this, but when used well it
normally means, Its not your fault alone; its
something we can work at together, rather than Its not your fault, so
lets pretend it never happened.
In this new world of shared responsibility
(perhaps the defining characteristic of the whole set of values and moral qualities),
forgiveness is not the absolutely primary value - the mutual interdependence is. But
forgiveness is the basic heroic action, the one which requires courage and personal risk
more than any other.