Tag Archives: forgiveness

Forgiveness. What is it and how do you do it?

Having had to hear the rather sad calumny against people with severe chronic illnesses like FMS and ME that we are ill because we don’t forgive and this. along with being angry and lonely, has made us ill, I’ve been reconsidering the whole subject of forgiveness.

Jesus made it a commandment. “Forgive your enemies,” and “Forgive your brother”, (meaning all relatives and friends). He said this in various ways at various times. If it’s a commandment (and it is) then it’s something we must do with our will, not just a feeling. In His commandment Jesus offers no wiggle room such as “forgive anyone who says sorry” or “forgive those brought to justice”.  He is, in fact, rather stark in His commandment. We are just to forgive.

There was a tendency I remember of saying “forgive and forget”. This is probably fairly easy for someone like me who can’t remember much anyway, but for someone with functioning memory that’s not possible. For someone who has been systematically abused, it’s completely impossible. You can’t tell someone to “forget” as memory isn’t under the will. You can help someone not dwell on bad memories, which is part of the will, but you can’t make someone forget.

Back in my psychi nurse days a friend of mine noted that many of the patients with schizophrenia had been seriously abused, often in childhood. The question  was raised whether those with a predisposition to such a serious mental illness could be tipped into illness by abuse. There are no answers to this; and anyway we knew just as many patients who had lived normal happy lives until the disease struck. We do know that schizophrenia is rooted in having too high a dopamine uptake, but why this happens and how is still a mystery. While modern medicine loves to blame patients and their families, there is actually nothing to back up this “blame the patient” approach in psychotic illness.

But there are many people who have very good reason to be unhappy, anxious and angry about the way others have treated them. So what can they do to forgive those who have wounded them either through selfishness, thoughtlessness or maliciousness? How do we obey the command Jesus gave us to forgive? And why did Jesus insist on it anyway?

In the Old Testament God says, “Revenge is mine” (Deut 32:35). That means it isn’t up to us to take revenge or want revenge for the wrongs done to us. If we can pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44) then we are on the right way to forgiveness. If we can genuinely hope for the best for the person who has hurt us, for heaven for them, then we have made the act of will to forgive.

Some people have said it’s easier to forgive another’s sin against us if we understand our sins against God. This may be true up to a point, but there are some sins that others perpetrate against us that we wouldn’t dream of doing, no matter how badly behaved we might be. It isn’t helpful to measure our sins against sins that are so monstrous we couldn’t even consider committing them.

All we can do is accept we too sin. Then we must be sure we ask for forgiveness for our sins. But if the person who has hurt us is never sorry all we can do is leave it in God’s hands.

And that’s why Jesus commands it. There’s nothing more freeing, more peace bringing than forgiving the other and putting their salvation into God’s hands. The act of forgiveness is healing to the person who has been wronged. That’s the root of Jesus’ command. Forgive your enemies because it’s good for you.

If we believe the terrible warnings Jesus gave us and the witness of saints over the years we know with deep sorrow that hell is not empty. Jesus offered forgiveness to anyone and everyone. All we have to do is accept the gift. If we offer the gift we cannot force the other to take it, any more than Jesus forces them to take His forgiveness. If people don’t want to be sorry or accept forgiveness they don’t have to. But you surely can’t look at a crucifix for very long without realising that He did that as He did that for each of us, our forgiving others can’t be so hard, especially as He will give us what we need to do it.

Forgive even those who project their own problems onto you. Resist the temptation to wish for retribution or even justice. Pray and ask for mercy for them as you would want mercy for you. And resist the other temptation that comes with being hurt by someone who does something you would never dream of doing. Resist feeling superior, even if they never say sorry.  While being so magnanimous with your forgiveness don’t trip into the pit of the Pharisee. 

Forgiveness is really wishing well for the other, wanting their redemption.  Those, rather strange, pseudo-christians who scream damnation on others have absolutely no idea what they are doing (or at least I hope not). Pray and leave it up to God. 

This forgiveness malarkey; it’s not as easy as you might think is it?

For those easier to solve moments  “Hey now, hold on, there’s a better way to solve this conflict, hey now, hold on, there’s a better way —-hug it out, hug it out..

What is forgiveness? final ramblings.

One of the aspects of forgiveness which I think cannot be truly about forgiveness is the “forgive and forget” bit. I am quite sure, thanks to my appalling memory these days in fibro-fog that I really have forgiven and forgotten and forgotten I’ve forgiven, but there are some things done to a person that they simply cannot forget. I think the “forget” side of forgiveness is not that we no longer remember what was done, or not done, but that we do not allow ourselves to dwell on it and become angry and resentful about it all over again.

Again this goes back to forgiveness being an act of the will and not a mere feeling or emotion. In fact the will has to fight those emotions quite hard at times.

But there’s another aspect of forgiveness that to be honest, I hadn’t thought of. Dr Ray Guarendi talked about how some people consider themselves forgiving when they forgive the other person magnanimously for something that doesn’t even need forgiving. I must admit I don’t think I have come across this, but I assume it happens. I assume its those kind of people who forgive you for not getting out of your hospital bed to give them a lift to the pub or something like that.

I think most people who struggle with forgiveness do so because what they must forgive is genuinely serious.

One other aspect of this, and it’s something Dr. Guarendi has talking about now and again, and that’s the fact that so few people say sorry any more. The general view is the victim of that other person’s horrible behaviour should simply carry on as though it never happened and the perpetrator should make an apology or attempt to make it right, but then I guess, that’s just something else we have to forgive.

As a mother though, I am trying to teach the children to say sorry. It’s one of those things that they resist doing. Not when they are little, but as they get older. What’s at the root of that I wonder? Bloomin’ concupiscence who needs it?

What is forgiveness? Out of virtue.

Rita, very astutely pointed out in the comments box of my last post that really forgiveness cannot be taught or learned in isolation from the virtuous life. We should be learning to live the seven virtues and in so doing we will come to understand what forgiveness is and how it is woven into life. I think she is right to say that chances are the separation of forgiveness out of the foundation of the virtuous life has lent towards the confusion over what it is and how it works. That certainly made a light go on in my dull brain.

It seems very much to grow out of charity and from there temperance and fortitude and in for many examples, courage too.

I thought I would start by looking at how Jesus forgave during His Passion.

The Church in her wisdom has given us a whole library load of names of those she knows are in heaven. The list of saints, Blesseds and Venerables are long indeed and there’s plenty of those who may likely be declared so as time goes on. She has never named anyone as being in hell. On those names she remains silent.

There is only one person in history that I am aware of where we could say there is a high possibility they ended up in hell, and that’s Judas and the suspicion is based on Jesus’ stark words “It would be better for that man had he never been born.”  But even then we are not told definitely that Judas is damned. He is, however put to us as the image of a man who despaired rather than repented and is juxtaposed against Peter who denied Christ and repented in deep sorrow. Jesus forgives Peter and he then goes on to get the Church under way.

From the cross Jesus asks His Father to forgive the men who were crucifying Him because, He pointed out, “they know not what they do.”  They cannot in justice be condemned for doing something for which they had no intention of evil. They thought, presumably, they were executing a criminal and in doing it in such a horrible way were offering punishment, justice and a warning to others, all for the common good.  It’s difficult to imagine they didn’t have some idea that what they were doing in some aspects was utterly evil, but we don’t know.

Then Jesus has a man on either side of him. St. Dismas repents and asks for forgiveness. Jesus gives His promise that Dismas would that day be with Him in Paradise. Gesmes doesn’t get any such promise. He hasn’t repented and so there is no evidence that he is going to make it to Paradise (although again, we can’t be sure as we don’t know his exact situation at death).

From this it might be assumed that Jesus only forgives those who are sorry. But is this true? We are told He died to save Mankind, and although the shedding of blood for the many (pro multis) implies that plenty of other people are not going to receive God’s forgiveness. Is this because God is a big meanie or that Calvin was right after all and there are the elect and the rest?

The answer seems to be that God offers the gift of His forgiveness for every single human being, and all we have to do is turn around (repent) and receive it.

Jesus gave the apostles the authority to bind and loose. “Those sins you forgive are forgiven,” He said, “And those sins you retain are retained.” So we see priests and bishops can retain – not forgive sins. The time this might happen would be if the person goes to Confession and says some sin he has no intention of doing anything about, which is not the same as habitual sin the person is working hard against of course.

So, down to the ordinary person like me. Can I say, I don’t need to forgive everyone because look at Jesus He hasn’t? Er, no. He has forgiven everyone, just everyone hasn’t accepted forgiveness. In accepting forgiveness we accept healing.

So does this mean I have to tell everyone I have forgiven, just as the priest in Confession does, or can I forgive someone without them ever having to know I have forgiven them?  I think all forgiveness is essentially between me and God, so if He is forgiving me, then I have to actually receive the forgiveness and He does this through the Sacrament of Confession which has the added wonderfulness of grace to help with healing and avoiding the sin in the future. But I can’t give grace so when I forgive I might not have to tell anyone other than God? Is forgiveness is as much for my sake as the other person? In fact if the other person doesn’t even know they are forgiven, then it’s all for my sake.

In practical terms what am I to do then, if this forgiveness is going to happen? As Shana said in the previous post, we really are not expected to stay in contact with people who have seriously abused us, aren’t sorry, will continue to do so and may very likely do so to our children. There is nothing in forgiveness about putting yourself and children in the way of other people’s malice. In fact surely by removing the temptation to malice you are doing them a service.

Should we always tell the other person they are forgiven? Shana wrote to her relatives to say so. I think that is probably a good thing to do in many cases. In my personal case, I did once but never again.

The forgiveness is letting go of anger, resentment and on a very basic level knowing that you really do not want to see them damned. It might often mean letting go of any hope of justice this side of death and handing it over to God completely. That is not a feeling. It’s a terrible spiritual battle and requires a massive act of the will.  It is not a short process, for most of us, and can sometimes be a repeated exercise. Just when you think you have forgiven them, that old nightmare comes back and you wake up with all the old feelings and have to start again.

Clare, rightly points out that it is easier to forgive others when we realise how much we have had to be forgiven, and this goes back to Rita’s point about forgiveness stemming from the virtuous life.

I do wonder though, if this has a limitation. It does seem easier to forgive the things we are also guilty of, or at least could imagine getting up to on a bad day. The big wall gets hit when someone does something so truly horrible we can’t get our head around it. Or even just amazingly selfish and neglectful.

I think it is much harder to forgive something we truly don’t understand, than to forgive something, even horrible, that we “get” in some way. I did work with a counsellor for a while trying to work out the “why” of what had been done to me, before I could get on with the process of forgiving. However, there were no answers to that question so I had to do the forgiving without ever getting to understand how someone could do that.

Interestingly, once I had really made the act of will of forgiveness, which was a bit like climbing a sheer rock face with a thin rope in a blizzard: thank God for God and His grace – then some of the extraneous problems such as nightmares actually stopped. Brilliant! Is that the same for everyone I wonder?

I don’t remember feeling anything other than relief that the spiritual battle was over (for now) and a bit of trepidation that I might have to ever fight it again. So I didn’t “feel” I had forgiven anyone. It was, very much an act of the will, with the heart being dragged along I think. Thankfully, despite the odd moment, I never have had to fight it like that again, and like Shana I did get some good advice when I needed it, thanks to Providence. I really do recognise that there is no way I could have done this alone. God had to be there, or I would still be angry, resentful and worse I am sure.

So, I think on this first point, Rita is right. We need the grace for the virtuous life, which doesn’t mean being without sin before we can forgive (thankfully) but does mean that in charity and temperance we don’t dwell on or actually try to commit revenge and we truly do not want the person to end up in hell.

Just in case you struggle with not hoping they end up in the fire, read some of the saints on hell. St. John Bosco’s visits there and St. Teresa of Avila should give you a good sense of just how much you don’t want to hope anyone ends up there.  This is where Clare’s excellent point that judgement is God’s comes in. When Jesus said don’t judge, this is what He was talking about. If we start deciding who we think should be in hell, chances are we’ll end up there ourselves, for after all, what could be worse than wishing eternal damnation on someone else?

But is there more to forgiveness that hoping and praying the person who has done the evil doesn’t end up in hell?

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.

Advent Reading and Prayers for the Congo

I posted about the story of Immaculee Ilibagiza some time ago. Well I have bought the books and am reading them as Advent reading.

Continue reading