Archive for August, 2015

It seems that there are many people who are angry at God. Their anger is real and something to be overcome for a better relationship with God. Do you suggest that they forgive God? In my understanding, the loving and holy God cannot do anything unjust, so it is challenging for me to conceptualize how people might be forgiving God. However, their anger is real and something to be resolved—that’s the key and real issue stimulating the idea of forgiving God. Thank you for your wisdom.

The late Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, suggested that God is big enough to take our resentment and our forgiving.  I am a great admirer of Dr. Smedes, but I think he got this one wrong.  As you say, a perfect God cannot be unjust.  If we presume otherwise, this can open up many errors in theology.  For example, God is imperfect in this scenario and so why follow the imperfect?  God is capable of sin in this scenario.  Would you want to worship a sinful being?

Instead of forgiving God, I recommend working on acceptance—-acceptance of God’s will. Sometimes this involves suffering, but out of suffering can come strength, patience, and a deep empathy for those who suffer.

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As I was thinking about forgiving people who have hurt me, I began to realize that sometimes the central person I have to forgive is myself. Is it acceptable to consider forgiving myself?

Yes, and the process of forgiving yourself is described in detail in my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, available at amazon.com). The difference between forgiving others and forgiving yourself is that in forgiving the self, you also need to go to those who were hurt by your actions and ask for forgiveness. So, you forgive (the self) and seek forgiveness (from others) in self forgiveness.

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Does forgiveness always start with feelings of anger? What about feelings of disappointment? For example, someone is angry when robbed by a stranger. In contrast, a mother is disappointed with a teenager who promised to clean her room, but did not.

Forgiveness does not begin with our own emotions. Forgiveness begins with an injustice by another person. Sometimes we react with anger, at other times with disappointment, and at other times with sadness and mourning. Even if we do not feel any of these emotions, if a person has done wrong, you are free to forgive if you choose to do so.

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When a person forgives and really understands the importance of forgiving, do they then have an obligation to pass on the importance of forgiveness to others?

Because forgiveness is a choice, I do not think that we should put pressure on those who forgive to now go and become teachers of others. I do think that it is reasonable to let those who forgive know that helping others to now forgive is good, if this resonates with the person. In my own experience, I see people, who develop a pattern of being persistent forgivers, often do have an internal self-chosen obligation to teach and help others.

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The New Criticism of Forgiving: It Places the Burden of Healing on the Victim

We are once again addressing a criticism of forgiveness that is showing up now more frequently than we would have predicted. The criticism might discourage some people from forgiving and so we need to address it because we think it does not hold up upon careful scrutiny.

A post on person-to-person forgiving appeared on the Salon.com website on Sunday, August 23, 2015. One commentator, with a lengthy response, had this (in part) to say:

“People are waking up to the cruelty of promoting forgiveness, just as they are waking up to the cruelty of promoting ‘prosperity consciousness’. In both cases, a burden is placed on the victims to fix themselves rather than fix the injustices of society. People are told they won’t ‘heal’ unless they forgive. That is a lie.”

Let us make four points regarding the above quotation:

1) Forgiveness is a choice and therefore it is not “promoted” by mental health professionals. We have to distinguish between the rhetoric of news media and genuine attempts to help.

2) Because forgiveness is not “promoted,” mental health professionals, who understand this, are not being cruel.twofeet

3) The notion of a “burden” to “fix” oneself is incorrect. To reiterate the same argument made on May 6, 2015, suppose a person hurts her knee while running. Is she now placing a “burden” on herself, or perhaps is the medical establishment placing one, as she undergoes surgery and rehab? She is hurt and now needs to do the work of healing. If someone is treated unjustly, doesn’t he have to accept the “burden” of striving for justice if this is his choice? Either way, forgiveness or justice, those injured have to do something. To blame forgiveness as an unfair move that is burdensome is incorrect. Instead, the effort to rehab a knee or to rehab a hurting heart through forgiveness can bring healing.

4) The commentator dichotomizes forgiveness and justice, claiming that either one forgives or seeks justice. It does not seem to dawn on many critics that people do and should let forgiveness and justice grow up together.

The new criticism does not stand up upon close examination. People who are injured by others should practice caution when hearing this criticism.

Robert

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