Lesson 15: Forgiveness – A Way to Healthy Relationships

forgivenessThere are two ways to understand forgiveness. The first focuses on it as a law that calls on us to repress our natural human instincts in order to do what God wants. It usually ends up either dividing people between those who obey and those who do not. Or, it promotes confession of sin over and over again without any intention of changing our lifestyle. When we turn religious teachings into laws, Jesus’ call to forgive as we are forgiven becomes a difficult commandment; a demand made upon us.

A second way is to see forgiveness as a guideline to a healthy lifestyle. Religious teachings show the way to the good life. God’s Word actually is good news that promises blessing if we have the sense to practice what is taught. If we forgive, we shall find ourselves in a satisfying relationship with God and other people.

Martin Luther King writes of the need for this second way of forgiveness: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate… Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

King believes forgiveness is healthy, because “hate sears the soul and distorts the personality. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true…Forgiveness is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. The evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship.”

The Bible presents this second way of forgiveness as the critical factor in salvation. When God tries to overcome the violence that characterizes humans in the first chapters of Genesis, he finds that his own use of violence does not work. He lays down his weapon, his bow, and begins the history of salvation that involves never again using his great power but rather practicing forgiveness and love.

Of course, we can find parts of the Bible that would seem to picture God using vengeance, punishment, or just fairness (an eye for an eye); but we should acknowledge the scriptures culminate with Jesus calling us to imitate God by going beyond an eye for an eye to forgiveness, even forgiveness of our enemies.

Most of us agree modern society is far from using forgiveness as a way to restore healthy relationships with either individuals or nations. We remain primitives who think our survival depends on doing unto others what they have done to us; and even worse doing it unto them before they do it to us. Perhaps it is time to really listen when Christ calls us to be merciful as the Father is merciful, to turn things around, to make enemies into friends, and finally to live according to the love by which God made this world.

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7 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Adam says:

    I’ve really just started to unlock the power of forgiveness over the last few years. It takes a few serious episodes to learn just how freeing it can be.
    It took the loss of a romantic love and the betrayal of a close friend to feel the anger and sadness necessary to process the true meaning of forgiveness. Anger almost always comes first. That’s the emotion most dangerous to others. It prevents us from seeing anything but what we want to see in the person or situation in which it is directed. It shuts off our awareness of all possibilities, most importantly the possibility for a spiritual rebirth in the individual that we’re casting our anger toward. We hold the grudge, even if we find the facts to be different than we first perceived or the person truly wishes to repent.
    The second emotion, self pity, is the most dangerous to ourselves. I find it interesting that we use the term “feeling sorry for ourselves” only because using the word sorry typically signifies that we are aware forgiveness is necessary and are expressing it. Yet too many times (particularly in press conferences of all varieties on television) an apology is given before it’s appreciated by the giver.
    In a majority of personal conflicts, we don’t take time to consider our own plays that led us to the destructive nature. Sometimes we take advantage of others, sometimes we take others for granted. Both of these can lead to betrayal. Sometimes, we forget to love people or at least see people for who they are and only see them for who we want to be, then are disappointed when they fail to live up to our own expectation.
    In my personal relationships that ended badly, there were signs that things were falling apart well before the final insult was cast. If I’d taken the time to fix things as they began to deteriorate, they wouldn’t have gotten to the point of no return.
    Love is like a tangled vine. It needs balance. At times we will grow together, tightly knit with those we love. Other times we’ll begin to need a little of our own space for upward mobility. The important thing is to remember the direction we’re headed together. After we’ve pushed forward, we must return to our community’s core. We either grow together or grow apart.
    True forgiveness of self is looking back at where the love began to grow apart, recognizing we made errors as well, and knowing that next time we will work to be more aware of the situation as it is so that we can show the compassionate and sometimes tough love necessary at the appropriate times.
    If we fail to do so, we become depressed, even self-loathing. Failing to recognize the problem allows it to repeat itself, driving us toward an insanity where our reality becomes a complete distortion from what we used to believe as truth. We become jaded toward opportunity because there is potential damage on the other end, and we’re too afraid to put ourselves in harms way again.
    God said love your neighbor as you love yourself. Sometimes we need to be reminded in the opposite direction. Forgive yourself as you’d forgive your neighbor. Hold yourself to the same standard.
    I find that the greatest forms of forgiveness end up being the types that we almost anticipate, or pay forward. When we allow ourselves to love unconditionally, we look at the situation and realize that we’re allowing trust and faith in others that could surely backfire. We’re willing to gamble that we will not need to show forgiveness because we believe that faith and trust will be rewarded, but we’re also prepared to keep loving, regardless of the result.
    For a long time, I wouldn’t put myself out on a limb with women for fear of rejection. The fear was greater the more intimate things got, because I knew there was that much more to lose. Better to nip it in the bud, so to speak. I slowly came to realize that I was only handicapping myself, preventing myself from finding what I truly wanted.
    Even in initial approach, It wasn’t until I went into the situation prepared to internally forgive the woman for being honest and saying I might not be her type, as well as internally forgiving myself for taking a chance that could fail, that I was able to approach romantic love without fear.
    If I’m honest with myself, I’m still learning to work through that. But I also know that learning to harness the power of forgiveness is leading me to a disciplined lifestyle without fear of the unknown. That is a truly blessed feeling.

  2. Concordia Hoffmann says:

    Forgiveness, then, is an act of will? Do we have the power of our mind to control our negative thoughts of revenge, retaliation, hurting , and so on? Is there a process to reach the point of willing forgiveness? Hate lingers….

  3. Concordia Hoffmann says:

    Forgiving someone doesn’t mean one has to then hang out with that person. When that person is toxic and destructive, running in the other direction seems like the smart thing to do, because forgiveness is not always a two-way street.

  4. Adam says:

    Forgiveness is a much an act of will. In fact, it’s the ultimate act of free will. We always have a choice. It takes practice to pause and reflect, but there is always another way. Hate lingers when you can not truly let go.
    That being said, your second point is also valid. It’s important to erase the malice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean reconnecting the bridge. Not everything has a fairytale ending. Sometimes all you can do is wish a person the best from afar until they’re willing to come to the table.

  5. Concordia Hoffmann says:

    I think all my points are valid. I don’t think forgiveness as an act of will can be simplified. And i don’t think forgiveness is an automatic response to brutality, violence. Forgiveness is a complex emotional and eventually, rational, act of will. The Amish may be exceptions and they make a good story. And frankly, i also see that it can take years to reach that point of forgiving someone who has destroyed another’s self-esteem, body, well-being. Then there is a choice. Choices , too, are not readily apparent.. You have to be taught that you have choices.

    The flippant attitude of christians,” oh, just forgive and go to communion, ” I always have found annoying because it ignores the complexity of the human condition.

    I am ready to accept the fact that some acts are unforgiveable: the halocaust, rapes, murder . Let God forgive. That’s His job. …..from the New Testament, anyway. Our job is to try to follow the Christ of the New Testament, certainly no easy task. The God of the Old Testament is a vengeful gd , tribal and primitive. b ut in some ways, he seems quite realistically human .The God of the New Testament is the ideal, of course, subjugating the Old

    ttestament Gd within us.

  6. Bob Nordvall says:

    Forgiveness is difficult and counter intuitive. When Jesus, and other religious leaders promoted forgiveness, they were asking people to do the exact opposite of what people wanted to do and of what they thought would be best for them. In the past there was not such a thing as behavioral science. Theories about how people felt and acted were not based upon scientific studies. Now we know, however hard it is to do, that in fact forgiveness can be shown to be the mentally healthy attitude to assume. Much has been written about the conflict between religion and science, but in this area science validates religion.

    • Fritz says:

      Sister Rita wrote to remind me that our beloved but departed companions Rusty Roy, used to claim that Christianity is the only religion with forgiveness at its core. Rusty had a chance to observe this as he grew up in India with Hindu and Muslim friends before coming to Penn State.

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