I was deeply hurt by some words my best friend said to me. She kind of shocked me, actually, by what she said. I immediately said that I forgave her for that. Now I am wondering if I acted too quickly. Can a person forgive too soon?
A person can forgive falsely too soon, but there is no such thing as forgiving in a genuine way too soon. By “falsely forgive” I mean a kind of “forgiveness” that is insincere, done more out of pride or expediency rather than out of a heart-felt sense of compassion for the one who was unfair. We can “forgive” a boss who asks us, if this means keeping our job, while all the time we are fuming inside. This is not genuine and will likely not be helpful for either the forgiver or the forgiven.
On the other hand, there are actually documented cases of quick forgiveness of people who have perpetrated horrendous injustices. Here is one example: Corrie Ten Boom survived a concentration camp during World War II. She wrote a book, The Hiding Place, about her experiences. Following the war, she was in a German church talking about the virtues of forgiveness. After the talk, people came up to greet her. Much to her horror, the SS officer who abused her years ago extended his hand to her, asking for forgiveness. She did not want to grant it. She then said a quick prayer and, as she reports, she felt something like an electrical surge go through her right arm and so she was able both to shake his hand and at the same time to offer a love for this man that surprised even her. Without debating the issue of prayer here, she did experience something that day that was genuine forgiveness and was both sudden and complete.
The more you practice forgiveness, the more easily you will be able to practice it in a genuine way, at least at times and for certain circumstances.
For additional information, see The Forgiving Life.
The forgiveness path is just one more obstacle to overcome along life’s tough road. A family member of mine was murdered. I cannot see forgiving this person. Even if I did, that process seems just as outrageously hard as sitting here with no recourse toward the murderer. Am I stuck either way, as a forgiver or as someone who cries out for justice but finds none (the murderer has not been caught)?
First of all, my sincere sympathy for the pain you are being asked to endure. No one should have to go through this. The fact that you are even asking about forgiveness is showing a heroism that I want you, yourself, to see.
An important insight that you have is this: No matter what you choose, you will have pain. I would like to gently challenge one of your words: “stuck.” I can understand how you might feel stuck as someone who cries out for justice which is not forthcoming. You are not stuck, however, if you decide to forgive. I think you might be “stuck” right now because of indecision—Should you forgive or not? If you decide to go ahead, then you are no longer “stuck.” Yes, you will have pain because growth in forgiveness is painful. Yet, the pain of working through forgiveness is temporary. The pain of crying out for justice and not finding it may go on indefinitely. When you are ready to get un-stuck, please consider reading the book, The Forgiving Life. It helps you to grow in forgiving and to grow as a person of virtue—strong and even thriving in the face of great pain. I wish you the very best in your journey toward healing.
Learn more at What is Forgiveness?
In March of 2014, we posted a reflection here in which we encouraged you to grow in love as your legacy of 2014.
The challenge was this: Give love away as your legacy of 2014.
We challenged you again in 2015…..and 2016……and we kept going.
Our challenge to you now is this: Give love away as your legacy of 2019.
One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2019 so far. Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague.
Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for whom you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?
Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? We ask because 2019 will be 50% over as we move through June. Have you engaged in 50% of all the loving responses that you will leave in this world this year?
Tempus fugit. If you have not yet deliberately left love in the world this year, there is time…..and the clock is ticking.
Despite your response to a question on April 30 in this column, I can cite a variety of cases where the one extending mercy was indeed “higher” than the one receiving that mercy. Can you further explain your contention?
Yes, there are many examples of one person as “higher” than another in mercy, such as a judge reducing a deserved sentence of a person who is convicted of a crime. Yet, mercy in general is going beyond what is deserved to aid someone who is suffering. Such aid need not imply, in every case, that the one who is exercising mercy is somehow higher than the other.
Here is an example: Let us suppose that a judge just got into an auto accident. The judge is hurt and needs help. Now, here comes a driver, who is a convicted person on probation. The convicted person is late for work, under pressure, but nonetheless stops his car to aid the judge. This is costing the convicted person who now is going beyond fairness (after all, he could simply call 911 and move on) to help the judge, who is supposedly the “higher” person.
So, mercy is not always a moral virtue in which the “higher” person aids a lower person. If you think about it, by our use of the word “higher” in these examples, it always involves not some kind of spiritually higher situation, but instead only a social role situation. If we look beyond social roles, no one is higher than anyone else. Thus, mercy is the attempt to alleviate the suffering of another, regardless of social role.
Learn more at What is Forgiveness?
It seems to me that mercy and forgiveness are different. In mercy, one person is higher than another and has pity on the one who is hurting. In forgiveness, you level the moral playing field and each are equal in their humanity. Would you please clarify for me?
Actually, forgiveness is a moral virtue that flows from mercy and mercy flows from the moral virtue of love. Yes, you are correct that when a person is showing mercy toward another, the one who is merciful is helping someone in distress. This, however, does not at all make the one who extends mercy somehow higher in humanity than the one who is in pain. They are equal as **persons** even though their **circumstances** differ.
So, to summarize, love in the Greek sense of agape, is to serve others for the others’ sake. In the serving, one may have to endure pain and persevere and actually suffer in such serving. This, in other words, does not put the one who is serving in a higher position. Mercy is a particular form of love in which the one showing mercy tries to alleviate the pain of another, which can cause the mercy-worker to feel pain and experience humility in the serving, thus leveling the moral playing field in that this is one person helping another person. Forgiveness is a special case of mercy in that the forgiver tries to serve the offending person by alleviating his or her pain, misunderstanding, and even moral weakness by helping the one who caused pain and who may be in pain because of the unjust action. In each case of love, mercy, and forgiveness, the moral virtue is one **person** serving another **person or persons** and each is equal in their personhood.
For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.