Tagged: “emotional forgiveness”

I sometimes consider forgiving my father for what happened when I was a child.  Yet, I then conclude that I never would reconcile with him anyway, so why bother to forgive?  What are your thoughts?

It is possible that your conclusion that “I never would reconcile with him anyway” is based on your current resentment and unforgiveness. If you work on forgiving your father, your views of reconciliation might change. Also, even if you do not reconcile, if and when you forgive, you could set yourself free of the resentments you might be carrying from your father’s behavior years ago.

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What if you approach someone and say, “I forgive you.”  Could this lead to even more tension? If she isn’t prepared to hear it, may this lead to an argument?

I think you are right. Proclaiming your forgiveness could lead to the other person getting angry at you if the person is not ready to hear it. Please keep in mind that there are no strict guidelines when it comes to forgiving someone. It is possible to show forgiveness without ever saying, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness can be shown and expressed in a variety of ways, such as by smiling, paying attention to what the other person is saying, returning a call, or speaking nice things about the person to other people. Yet, eventually, the other may be open to these words so you could be patient and not completely dismiss the idea for the future. Please keep in mind that you do not have to use those exact words to be sincere in your forgiveness.

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In your book, The Forgiving Life, you distinguish between forgiving a person for an offense and being a forgiving person. What’s the difference between these two?

Being a forgiving person and forgiving someone for one offense are two different ideas. To forgive someone usually means to engage in a particular process that will lead to forgiving a person for a particular injustice. To be a forgiving person means that you: a) forgive particular people with a particular process for particular injustices; b) learn to practice this process frequently, whenever there is a need to forgive; c) learn to love this process of forgiving others; d) make forgiveness a part of your very identity, so that to not forgive is to seem discordant with who you are as a person; and e) realize that one purpose of your life is to give forgiveness away to others so that they, too, can begin forgiving those who have hurt them.

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I know that to forgive is not to excuse what the other person did.  I still worry that the one forgiven might misinterpret my forgiveness and think I am giving her permission to act unfairly.  Can you help me sort this out?

When you forgive and your anger is lessened, you can gently ask for her fairness. If you do not have deep anger in your heart, you will probably be able to deliver your message with a quiet tone, and your suggestions for her fairness will likely be reasonable. As she sees that you want to be treated fairly, she is less likely to interpret your forgiveness as excusing.

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I am a Christian.  Is forgiveness only a moral virtue?  It seems to me that it is a theological virtue, as St. Thomas Aquinas calls it.  In other words, if forgiveness is a theological virtue, then we would need the grace of God to do this well.

As you point out, St. Thomas Aquinas makes a distinction between a moral virtue, open to all who are trying to live a good life, and a theological virtue, which is so challenging that we need the grace of God to get this right.  St. Thomas does place charity under the heading of a theological virtue.  Charity is loving others even when it is difficult to do so.  Forgiveness on its highest level is a subset of charity, as we try to love others through our own pain caused by those toward whom we are offering charity.

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