Forgiveness

Was going to post this before I got my cold last week then got behind in everything. It struck a simple thought in my mind.

Two news stories from the Seattle in the last month.

1. A man is stabbed to death in the street after leaving a soccer game.

2. A woman is ran over outside a pub, the driver flees the scene.

Both incidents happened over a weekend and were on the Monday morning news (the news that starts at 4:30am). In both stories the families of the victims are reported to have forgiven the perpetrators.

I am all for forgiveness and I can see how a failure to do so could eat at a person from the inside out. There are many facets to forgiveness which I won’t go into here but one of the more obvious ones is the matter of degree of the wrong committed. There are some things, like carelessly bumping into someone on the street, that barely make the register of something to forgive. It is as easily forgiven as the effort for the other to say, “sorry”. It is also easier to forgive those we love than it is strangers for like offenses.

But my skeptical antennae  go up when I hear something like the stories I related above. How do you forgive someone such a thing even before the total awareness of the loss has hit? How do you forgive in shock? How do you forgive before you mourn? A little over 48 hours is not time enough to process such a loss.

Even if you are called upon to forgive your fellow man, I doubt you are called to do it immediately. I doubt you are called to do it with such lightening speed that it cannot even be real. I seriously doubt such forgiveness can be real. I have seen talk shows where some mother has forgiven her son’s murderer after five years, 6 months, real periods of time. 62 hours? That is just saying words. I think, although I would not know how to prove, that such acts of forgiveness are more an effort to follow what one thinks is their religious duty to the point of mouthing what is psychologically impossible for them to have done.

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4 responses to “Forgiveness

  • Darrell

    R.J.

    Immediate forgiveness is the goal of a Christian although most might not reach it. In On the Incarnation St. Athanasius wrote that, “The Son of God became man, that we might become god,” and this is the key to the traditional Christian understanding of forgiveness – which you must understand is not a synonym for forgetfulness.

    With almost anything that you do (whether it be writing, playing the guitar, or forgiving) you become better at it with practice. This practice changes not only the external thing that you do but also who you are as a person. For man, made in the image of God, to become more truly and authentically human he must become more like God. Within Orthodox Christian theology this is called theosis. So just like with learning the guitar you must practice the guitar, to learn to forgive you must practice forgiveness. Perhaps early on as a guitarist you are sloppy and deficient in your practice but over time you become better and better and are able to play more and more challenging music. So it is with forgiveness.

    Practice might be time consuming, difficult, and even painful but someone wanting to truly learn to play the guitar knows that the excuse of not being ready to play the guitar is no real excuse at all. Of course you might not be ready to play certain compositions when you find them, and perhaps you never will be, but the transformation of who you are from someone that wants to play the guitar to someone that does play the guitar is in the act. You are correct that for one who is not in the habit of practice, or is forever putting practice off for another day or for something easier, a large complex composition would be difficult if not impossible. But that person has already decided that every test is too difficult.

    To answer your question more directly, yes it is quite possible that the people in the articles that you referred were not successful in forgiving at the moment they spoke those words. More important, though, than whether or not they were in that instant successful in their forgiveness is if in that moment they were trying to forgive.

    You might also find this article by Hieromonk Damascene to be of interest: http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/resentforgive.aspx.

    • bensira587

      Hey, Darrell

      Thanks for the detailed comment. I would hope that one would not have had so much practice at forgiveness as to be able to forgive the murderer of one’s son within 72 hours.

      Personally, rarely, very rarely, do I find an offense that even needs forgiveness. I have a rule that I have to have the complete context in mind, and I have to be sure of the malice, dishonesty, or grievous negligence of the offending party.

      I guess I could widen the field of what I could consider offenses against me so I could get in more practice, but that would seem to commit a different error.

      On the other hand I do wonder why the family makes it public knowledge that they forgive the offender. Surely the act does not require the offender’s knowledge, and the offender requires God’s forgiveness, not the victim’s. And the victim’s forgiveness would be known by God as true or not whether it was said publicly or no.

      • Darrell

        R.J.

        What I failed to convey is that, from the Orthodox Christian perspective, forgiveness should become/be a reflexive action — not a decision to be weighed.

        That so little calls you to feel the need to forgive is all to the better as it shows that you are well exercised in reflexive forgiveness. As to the grieving families motives or hearts in their declaration of forgiveness, I have no insight and will have to simply take them at their word.

        —–

        “If, therefore, you desire to attain perfection and rightly to pursue the spiritual way, you should make yourself a stranger to all sinful anger and wrath. Listen to what St Paul enjoins: “Rid yourselves of all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil speaking and all malice” (Eph. 4:31). In saying ‘all’ he leaves no excuse for regarding any anger as necessary or reasonable. If you want to correct your brother when he is doing wrong or to punish him, you must try to keep yourself calm; otherwise you yourself may catch the sickness you are seeking to cure and you may find the words of the Gospel now apply to you: “Physician, heal yourself” (Lk. 4:23), or “Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and not notice the rafter in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3).

        No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of Righteousness (Christ). Leaves, whether of gold or lead, placed over the eyes, obstruct the sight equally, for the value of the gold does not affect the blindness it produces. Similarly, anger, whether reasonable or unreasonable, obstructs our spiritual vision. Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts. This is what the Prophet teaches us when he says: “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ps. 4:4. –LXX) – that is, be angry with your own passions and with your malicious thoughts, and do not sin by carrying out their suggestions. What follows clearly confirms this interpretation: “As you lie in bed, repent of what you say in your heart” (Ps. 4:4. –LXX) – that is, when malicious thoughts enter your heart, expel them with anger, and then turn to compunction and repentance as if your soul were resting in a bed of stillness.” — St. John Cassian

        • bensira587

          I should have said from the outset, I have nothing but my own idle speculation about the merits of the family’s forgiveness. I really don’t know one way or the other.

          I get back to what you said after my work week.

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