What is forgiveness anyway?

I know, I know, I’ve asked this question before. I’ve considered it and listened to what people have to say on it, and I am still a bit lost as to what it is exactly. When Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother seventy times seven, I get that he meant just keep forgiving, but I don’t get what it is Peter is supposed to “do” or even “feel” or “will” as he keeps on forgiving that brother over and over again.

Now there’s eight of us living in this house, and Al and I have been married for 23+ years, and as neither of us are impeccable, there’s been some forgiving to do. So, somewhere in there, I must know how to do it, because I have done it. My guess is, without going over the details of who did what to whom, that the reason forgiveness happened was because we were sorry. Chances are that with perhaps some rare exceptions, we didn’t mean it and the other person knew we didn’t and so forgiveness is given and received and life goes on. All that seems easy enough to me. I am guessing you don’t really need to be a Christian to get your head and heart around that. I might be wrong and I suppose that all forgiveness is found from God’s grace, but I don’t think most people would bear a grudge over a forgotten book of stamps or whatever.

It’s the big stuff I wonder about. The OT reading this morning was a strong admonition against taking revenge, and that makes sense, but that leaves the question of revenge versus justice and of course defense. It is the anniversary of the horrific 9/11 attacks right now. I am sure that day has images scorched onto the memories of most of us, leaving us specific people to pray for even if we don’t know their names. There must be many untold stories of families who have learned to forgive the people who did this to them. But again I am left wondering what form this forgiveness takes.

I had come to the probably inaccurate conclusion that forgiveness means not taking revenge, putting aside the thoughts of anger that might lead to wanting revenge and not wishing damnation on the other person. I have also come to the conclusion over all that it is a lot easier to forgive people who are sorry, or who do horrible things in a non-malicious way.

Jesus offers forgiveness to all, but as the new translation says He shed His Precious Blood for “many” which seems to imply there are plenty of people who don’t want to be forgiven. Hell is a choice after all.

Still, how to forgive…it’s a biggie.

Are we supposed to keep in contact with people no matter how often they abuse us? Is going back for more part of the seventy times seven Jesus spoke of?

Does forgiveness mean not asking for justice, and what is the difference between justice and revenge?

How do you forgive someone who isn’t sorry, but with whom you must have contact anyway?

Is it unforgiving to break contact with a person who has abused you?

Does forgiving mean forgetting = and how does that work?

Does God forgive everyone, and if so, what’s hell for?

What is the process of forgiveness? Does it happen in a flash or words, or does it take time?

I think I might have a go at these questions on the blog – and who knows maybe there’ll be a lesson set out of it.


4 responses to “What is forgiveness anyway?

  1. For me, it’s two things. The first, is to realise how much “I” have been forgiven. When I think about what God has done for me, it puts things in perspective. The second is similar – I try and think about how God views the other person. If God is able to forgive them, if no matter what they’ve done, he still sent his Son to die for them then I am not able to bear a grudge. I just thought of a third – it is to remember that there will be a day when God will judge everyone. That’s for him to do, not us. If someone has done something awful, and is not sorry, then I can let it go, in the knowledge that they will have to answer for it on that day.

    Just some thoughts!

  2. Very similar thoughts have been going through my addled brain too. I want to know what forgiveness is and I never seem to be any closer to finding out.

    However, i may have hit on something….”being a forgiving person”, surprisingly is not a virtue. We are often led to believe it is. Virutes are things we can work on, either by ourselves or by asking for God’s help and the grace to pursue that virtue. I get the feeling that “the ability to forgive” may be a direct result of living the virtuous life and as such is not something that can be treated in isolation from the virtues. The emphasis in moral teaching on forgiveness and not on the virtues is a fairly recent phenomena, and I wonder if this may be part of our confusion.

  3. In regards some of your questions – here are a few answers I’ve pondered or had a priest give me help with. I hope they help with your pondering – this stuff is so tricksy sometimes!

    Are we supposed to keep in contact with people no matter how often they abuse us? Is going back for more part of the seventy times seven Jesus spoke of? Only if you are strongly called to do so. I had some really evil family members, who did some terrible things to me and my family when I was younger, before I married. I struggled with forgiving them, because this great aunt and uncle did not ever ask forgiveness for the pain they caused, nor did they ever acknowledge any wrongdoing. It was always ‘our’ fault that they behaved badly. Always. And some of the personal hurts were so deep.

    I knew I needed to forgive them because it was eating me up inside even after years of cutting off all contact (I wanted to protect my own children from them). I was inspired to write a letter asking them to forgive me for hating them, and that I forgave them for all hurts, wether they meant to hurt me or not. BUT because they were so nasty I could not in good conscience allow them back into my life, especially since the uncle was a pervert and I had young daughters. I could not allow myself to be exposed to that level of evil, either and a priest told me I did the right thing. It was more than just carelessness – these two committed acts of deliberate evil against me, my grandmother, my siblings and my parents. I had such relief when I sent the letter because with it, I offered all my suffering, pain and sorrow to Jesus and aske Him to show me how to give every bit of it to Him (and it took a long time to do it, but it has happened). I promised, in my letter, to pray for them all my life, and I have kept that promise (and both have long since passed away) and when ever I began getting angry for long-ago hurts, I reminded myself that the hurts were given to Jesus, and He would deal with them, not only the hurts, but the people who caused them.

    Does forgiveness mean not asking for justice, and what is the difference between justice and revenge? No. Forgiveness means asking the Lord to deal out the justice, unless there is a necessary legal matter that must be settled in civil court. Sometimes these things can be dropped when it is personal, but sometimes for the good of others who may suffer from the evil of that person they must be sent to a civil court. But again, that isn’t .something that has a simple answer. Sometimes a person reforms when nothing is said, and personal shame has a chance to work on their conscience. But some people do not seem to have a working conscience and the only way to stop them hurting others is through legal sources.

    <i?How do you forgive someone who isn’t sorry, but with whom you must have contact anyway? Forgiveness is an act of the will, but it isn’t always easy to do, which is why we need the supernatural graces of the Sacraments. 🙂 For some people, like folks who are neighbors, or relatives, or coworkers, it means going to Confession A LOT! and spending time doing penance for them if you have the grace to do it.

    Is it unforgiving to break contact with a person who has abused you?
    Nope. It is common sense, unless they have thoroughly repented and made real serious changes in their lives – things on the line with giving up drugs and alcohol, making financial restitution or admitting their actions hurt others and showing how they plan to reform their ways. Even then, until they showed evidence of real reform, I’d always try to keep any time spent with them in public where they were less likely to misbehave again until I was personally confident of their true reform. I could never in good conscience let my great uncle or aunt near my children, but my husband has an uncle who was a real nasty jerk, who gave up alcohol, got into AA and stopped insulting and badgering people about religious belief and has become a very decent man, someone enjoyable to chat with at family gatherings. I have no fears that he’ll hurt my kids.

    I don’t have all the answers, and none of these were approved of by the Holy See! lol but I did get some good advice (at least, I think it was good advice) from priests about this question over the years.

  4. Pingback: Justice or Vengance « Patriot Warrior

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