ForgivenessNet home page

Back to Insights page

Compilation of insights  A-H

Jump to Compilation of insights I-Y

A community of guilt   

We need to recognise that it is an inevitable part of our moral being as humans that we are sinners, sharing every one of us in a quality of guiltiness.  It is from within a community of the guilty that we have to approach guilt, not as people who stand outside or think that it is even possible to stand outside.  There is no us and them.

Maybe it is only when someone recognises that he or she personally participates in a community of guilt that the (Christian) gospel analysis of sin, a divine Saviour and the offer of forgiveness none of us can merit, begins to make some sense.  We may then be empowered to help others discover another community far beyond guilt, a community of the genuinely humane, of hope, of forgiveness, of love.  Theologically, the universality of guilt is but the backdrop to the universality of forgiveness.

Adrian Hastings  "The Shaping of Prophecy" pp 173-4


A healing community

How can a local congregation function as a healing community?  According to the letter of James in the New Testament, there are three strands:

The church is to be a community of prayer and praise.   "Is anyone in trouble?" (Jas 5:13). James invites us to pray when we are in trouble and to pray for others who are in trouble or distress. "Is anyone happy?" (v.13). James invites us to celebrate the grace and blessings of God by singing songs of praise. "Is anyone sick?" (v.14). James encourages us to pray for those afflicted with a short-term sickness and those suffering with a long-term disease.  To function as a healing community, a congregation must learn the dual discipline of praying together and rejoicing together. 

The church is also to be a community of confession and forgiveness. Obviously we are to confess our sins to God, and God is "faithful and just to forgive" (1 Jn 1:9).   But we are also instructed to confess certain things to one another—our struggles, our hardships, and maybe even the areas in which we are most vulnerable to temptation.  The phrase "to one another" (Jas 5:16) does not mean that we are to confess to the whole congregation but to a trusted friend, group of friends or an accountability group.  A healing church learns to major on forgiveness and to avoid a judgmental and condemning spirit.  In the model prayer, Jesus prays, "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us" (Lk 11:4).  A caring church strives to create a redemptive atmosphere characterized by grace and mercy.  

Finally, James describes the church as a community of recovery and restoration.  James challenges us to bring back those who have wandered away (Jas 5:19).  Although you cannot physically seize individuals and bring them back into the active life of the church, you may captivate people by the care and concern you demonstrate toward them.  You may lead someone back into active participation through patience and perseverance.  If recovery is reconnecting with people who have wandered away from church and faith, then restoration is the process of incorporating them back into the active life of the church.  Restoration helps others put their sins behind them by refusing to allow their sins to disqualify them from participation and by refusing to allow their past sins become the central focus of their lives.  A ministry of recovery and restoration emphasizes letting love cover "a multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4:8).

Barry Howard  Ethics Daily


A world of sin   

People are not culpable in the abstract – as if for example – I am somehow ‘guilty’ for the enslavement of African Americans in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries; but I am culpable for that history in the sense that the effects of slavery continue to mar my relations with others, making me complicit in the continuing racism of the culture into which I was born.  I can either remain complicit in that racism, thereby perpetuating it in ways for which I am also culpable; or I can struggle against it, seeking to mitigate its effects through faithful discipleship.

But there is no one who can claim to be only a victim of other’s histories; though levels of culpability certainly vary, sometimes immensely, we are all enmeshed in various histories and circumstances, and the result is that we cannot evade the truth that we all invariably diminish and destroy others in the ways in which we live.

This ‘always-already’ brokenness is the fundamental condition of Sin.   But this fundamental situation of fragmentation and brokenness also manifests itself in particular and specific sins.  Such sins include both things that human beings do to one another (such as violence, adultery, lying, and racist actions or comments) and things that fail to do for one another (such as abandoning those who suffer, neglecting the physical or emotional needs of others, or refusing to act justly or truthfully.) In either case, we not only diminish the other(s); we diminish ourselves.

Gregory Jones  "Embodying forgiveness"  p 62


A wrongdoer is a valuable person

Forgiveness recognises the wrongdoer as a person. He has done wrong, and about this there is no pretence.  But this is not the whole truth about him.  He is still of infinite value as a person, since every person is unique and irreplaceable by any other.  Since he has so greatly injured himself by doing wrong, he is in special need of help, and help that can be rendered only by the one to whom he has done the wrong ...

Forgiveness can spring only from a self-forgetfulness that is more concerned about another's wellbeing than about its own, and that longs for the renewal of fellowship even when fellowship has been flouted and destroyed by the wilful aggression of another.

Bishop Stephen Neill  "A Genuinely Human Existence"


An assertion of dignity   

The act of forgiveness carries a lot of power.   It is an assertion of one's dignity to have the means and ability to forgive ... It may be difficult to understand, but idealistically speaking, I think if there is to be peace here (in Palestine), there has to be forgiveness ... We have to forgive (the Israelis) for what they did to us. 

Raja Shehadeh (Palestinian lawyer)   "Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review" Summer 1989 p 167


Anger can take a person seriously

Anger, directly expressed, is a mode of taking the other person seriously ... We Christians have come close to killing love precisely because anger has been understood as always being a deadly sin.

Beverly Harrison   The power of anger in the work of love, Union Seminary QR #36 p 50


Art and the difficulty of representing forgiveness

In a highly original essay which is hard to extract briefly, Thomas Trzyna asks whether music is the form of Western art most suited to portraying forgiveness.  He first sets out how many artists - particularly authors, have tended to avoid portraying forgiveness, seeing characters who demonstrate it as either boring or unjust.   For example, W. H. Auden observed (in The Dyer's Hand p 200) : "in King Lear, Shakespeare attempts to show absolute love and goodness, in the person of Cordelia ... but the price he pays is that Cordelia is a bore.  If she is not to be a fake, what she says cannot be poetically very impressive nor what she does dramatically very exciting." 

The problem is to portray both the scale of wrong in what the villain did, and at the same time the scale of potential and goodness in the wrongdoer, who is worthy of compassion and capable of profound transformation:

The effective presentation of forgiveness (in a work of art) seems to require the ability ... to partake simultaneously of two viewpoints, or of two temporal frameworks, an ability to be within an event and at the same time far away, viewing the event sub specie aeternitatis.  Saints and people close to death quite naturally and convincingly partake of two contexts, or two perspectives, or two temporal frameworks.

Must the portrayal of forgiveness (in a work of art) be limited to the imitation of a relatively rare group of character types, character types that are easily perceived by audiences as capable of experiencing such dualities or simultaneities ... to saints, the dying, and to archetypal comic or fabulous characters?  I will focus chiefly on a more limited question: by using what artistic devices or resources can an artist convincingly depict the experiences of an ordinary, unsaintly person who is working through the psychological, social and moral process of seeking forgiveness and self -forgiveness?  Or to state the question in terms of a specific work, by using what resources might an artist successfully write a sequel to Crime and Punishment, a sequel in which Raskolnikov’s growth of character and spirit is displayed in detail, with accuracy and without aesthetic blemishes such as sentimentality?

Rather than pursue a general answer to these questions, I will focus the inquiry even more narrowly by asking whether it might be true that one genre of art has greater resources for accomplishing this task than any other ...  Auden's 1938 poem dedicated to Benjamin Britten, The Composer, reads:

"You alone, alone, imaginary song
Are unable to say an existence is wrong
And pour out forgiveness like a wine."

The connection between music and reconciliation is an old one.  Shakespeare uses it many times.  In The Tempest, Ferdinand invokes a comparison between the forgiving power of music and the spirit of God moving on the waters when he says,

"This music crept by me upon the waters
Allaying both their fury and my passion" (I, ii, 392-4). 

Music, of course, has the actual (as opposed to the metaphoric) capacity to present simultaneous impressions.  And music added to dramatic performance – opera (perhaps film) – constitutes an assemblage of a remarkable range of resources for imitating the complex interpersonal relations, as well as the complex soul searching and reaching for the eternal, that may be required both to receive and to grant forgiveness.  (The author then illustrates this with a detailed exploration of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes.)

Thomas Trzyna "Forgiveness and Time" in Christian Scholars Review 9-92


As we forgive

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have someone to forgive ...  I am telling you what Christianity is.  I did not invent it.  And there, right in the middle of it, I find "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us."  There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms.  It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven.  There are no two ways about it.

C S Lewis  "Mere Christianity" pp 101-2


Asking for forgiveness

In almost every New Age publication, you can find books, tapes, and workshops on forgiving others, but I've never seen a workshop on asking for forgiveness for oneself.  An apology exercise designed to promote enlightenment, transformation, and healing does exist; but it's not a New Age exercise—it's an 'Age Old' ritual.

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, during the Ten Days of Repentance or Days of Awe, we Jews are asked to approach people in our lives and ask for forgiveness.  Even if we are unsure whether we have done anything offensive, we still ask—in case we committed any slights we are unaware of.  If we ask forgiveness three times and are refused, we are cleared and the burden is on the other.  Such is the exquisite care embedded in the rituals to clear the slate between ourselves and others.  A strong intention to liberate one another from past mistakes, and to allow for redemption, is inherent in the design of these rituals.

There is great wisdom and psychological soundness in this practice—called kapara, or atonement.  By reconciling with each person individually, we prepare ourselves for Yom Kippur, when we ask for forgiveness collectively.  Atonement is the individual starting point for tikkun olam, healing the world.

I am more of a practising psychologist than a practising Jew, but kapara is my favourite ritual in Judaism. By making a provision for a salutary practice we might not undertake on our own, even with psychotherapy, Judaism has found a way to simultaneously promote conscious spiritual evolution and psychological growth ...

For all of us, it is harder to ask for forgiveness than to forgive.  For some people, the act of making apology is seen as a sign of weakness and a violation at the core of one's being.

One reason forgiveness is embraced more than apology has to do with our preoccupation with victimology.  (Many innocents are victimised; victimology. refers to the misuse of this to avoid growth).  In forgiving, we get to be the good guys, identified with the victim position and holding the moral high ground.  In asking for forgiveness, we are identified with the perpetrator position, with realising we hurt others, which can be intolerable for some;  the humility that comes with reclaiming the dark aspects of our personality gets confused with humiliation.

It is much easier to fast and to sit in synagogue and ... say "we" have sinned than it is to say "I" hurt you.  It is easier to ask "Our Father Our King" to forgive us than it is to ask our actual fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, spouses and ex-spouses, children, friends, and others to forgive us for the specific sins we have committed against them.

There is value in true forgiveness, but it is often trivialised, misunderstood, and misapplied in ways that can be harmful.  Authentic forgiveness is a profound organic process that may include anger, understanding, empathy, and a natural release when the arduous psychological work is complete.  It cannot be forced or achieved by a deliberate act of will without some form of protest from the depths of one's soul.

In my practice I have seen clients with cancer, adults who have been abused as children, and others who torment themselves for their inability to forgive.  When the perpetrator is not apologizing, forced forgiveness can hurt the victim.  Some therapists pressure their clients to forgive perpetrators as a requirement for healing. This adds insult to injury and can be a re-traumatization: those who have been hurt now feel that their inability to forgive will deny them the promise of healing.  It is a New Age guilt trip and places many people in a "spiritual double-bind"—damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Diane Perlman  Tikkun magazine


Becoming a forgiving person

It is my hypothesis that there are four stages on the journey to becoming a forgiving person ... In the first stage, people experience loss, feel angry or hurt, and tend to justify their negative emotions ... The second stage emerges when after feeling upset with someone for a while we realise that our hurt and anger does not feel good ... our bad feelings are not helping us ... In the third stage we remember how good it felt the last time we were able to forgive ... we are more in control.

The fourth stage of becoming a forgiving person is the most difficult and possibly the most powerful.  At this stage you simply become a forgiving person.   This stage comes as you make the decision to forgive first and let many troubling things go.  As a forgiving person, you become resistant to taking offense.  Your skin becomes tougher.  You take less personal offence, you are convinced that you are responsible for how you feel, and you tell stories that show you and other people in the light of your positive intention.

The fourth stage of forgiveness involves the choice to rarely if ever take offense.  This does not mean that we condone unkindness.  It does not mean we become a doormat.  It means we save being upset only for situations where getting upset helps us.  We do not take hurtful actions so personally, and we do not blame the offender for how we are feeling.  At this stage we understand that people are not perfect and that we can expect them to hurt us at times.

Fred Luskin  "Forgive for good" pp 179-183


Beginning to be free

We must forgive those we feel have wronged us, not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because we love ourselves so much we don't want to keep paying for the injustice.

Forgiveness is the only way to heal.  We can choose to forgive because we feel compassion for ourselves.  We can let go of the resentment and declare, "That's enough!  I will no longer be the Big Judge that goes against myself.  I will no longer beat myself up an abuse myself.  I will no longer be the Victim."

First, we need to forgive our parents, our sisters, our friends, and God.   Once you forgive God, you can finally forgive yourself.  Once you forgive yourself, the self-rejection in your mind is over ... That's the beginning of the free human.  Forgiveness is the key.

Don Miguel Ruiz  The Toltec path to freedom (The Four Agreements pp 114-5)


Being perfect, not winning

The 2005 movie Friday Night Lights (dir. Peter Berg) is based on a true story, retold by Buzz Bissinger in the best-selling book of the same name.  It's about the Permian Panthers, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas in 1988.  As the Panthers kneel at halftime, thinking they're about to recite the Lord’s Prayer, Coach Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) steps in:

You all have known me for a while. And for a long time you’ve been hearing me talk about "being perfect.

I want you to understand something. To me, being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you and your relationship to yourself, your family and your friends.

Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down. Because you told them the truth … and that truth is that you did everything that you could. There wasn’t one more thing that you could have done.

Can you live in that moment, as best you can, with clear eyes and love in your heart? With joy in your heart? If you can do that, gentlemen, then you’re perfect.

screenplay by David Aaron Cohen


Being true to myself through forgiving

I must practise unlimited forgiveness because, if I did not, I should be wanting in veracity to myself, for I would be acting as if I were not myself guilty in the same way as the other has been guilty towards me.  Because my life is so liberally spotted with falsehood, I must forgive falsehood which has been practised upon me.  Because I have been in so many cases wanting in love, and guilty of hatred, slander, deceit or arrogance, I must pardon any want of love, and all hatred, slander, deceit or arrogance which have been directed against myself …

The struggle against the evil that is in mankind we have to carry on not by judging others but by judging ourselves.  Struggle with oneself and veracity towards oneself are the means by which we work upon others.

Albert Schweitzer   quoted in George Seaver, "Albert Schweitzer, Christian Revolutionary" p 91


Bidding goodbye to evil

When we think of forgiveness, the fear may arise that evil will remain unpunished.  It is as if forgiving might mean to give up the right to punish evil. 

Despite all of this, I have to see what evil does to me - it makes me want to react to evil with evil.  Then I see everything with dark glasses of evil.  It paralyses me and alienates me from life.  Forgiving means bidding goodbye to evil, in order not to be guided by it any more.

A process of reconciliation may take some time, as the other side has to recognise its faults also.  With forgiveness, however, I don't need to wait any waste time.  Forgiveness gives me freedom to love now.  When we attain this freedom, we realise that those who have done evil are themselves its victims.

Fr Andrija Vrane  International Inter-Religious Seminar, Croatia 1998

(quoted in Michael Henderson, "Forgiveness" p xviii)


But will he sin again?    

The church cannot set false borders on grace.  There are no limits on divine mercy toward penitent people.  There are no boundaries on forgiveness.   The church must discipline sin in its midst, but we cannot deny a penitent person, no matter how serious his sin may have been.  Someone might protest, "But we want to make sure he will never do it again."  We cannot have that assurance.   If he sins seventy times seven, we must forgive him that many times.  Refusing to forgive is a sin, a sin that is doubly destructive to Christian joy, because it not only steals the original offender's joy, but it also diminishes the joy of the one who is refusing to forgive.  Failure to forgive ... is an extremely destructive kind of sin.

Forgiveness restores joy on both sides.  It heals the breach caused by sin.  It salves the sorrow of both offender and forgiver.  And this should take place the moment the sinning one repents.  As soon as there is repentance, the offender should be restored and strengthened, "lest such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow" (2 Corinthians 2.7).

John MacArthur  "The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness"  pp 174


Campaigning against evil

This is a difficult moment for the forgiveness movement.  People around the world are at this very moment being asked to support what could become a permanent state of global war, rooted in the need to punish evildoers.  While I certainly agree that we must try to prevent and restrain people from committing acts of violence, I am wary of President Bush's new role as a theologian, pressing us to join a new campaign against evil around the world.  Forgiveness is about starting over, not about getting even.

My first concern about the current campaign against evil is that ideas of the "evil other" can and do blind people to how they may have contributed to their own difficulties.  In the current instance, Mr. Bush himself has already publicly acknowledged that American policy decisions played a central role in Afghanistan's collapse into chaos and terrorism.  Perspectives as varied as Buddhism, psychotherapy and biology would counsel us here that a large part of our survival power is the power to recognize our own mistakes, so that we can change our behavior and not repeat them ...

My second concern about a campaign against evil is that if we imagine our power to be only the power to out-bomb the evil bombers, out-shoot the evil shooters, and out-kidnap the evil kidnappers, then we will condemn ourselves to a national life focused primarily on violence, and we will become more and more like the people we have labelled as evil.  Jesus set the example of this when he asked God to forgive those who were killing him.  The issue was not the executioner's worthiness of forgiveness.  The issue, I believe, was that Jesus refused to join the haters in their hatred.

Dennis Rivers  A web page about forgiveness 2002


Can we forgive 'institutions'?   

Is the process of forgiveness quite different when there is an organization involved? How do you forgive a church or a ministry?

Well, we can't live without institutions, but we must recognize that institutions live to protect themselves.  Survival is one of their major motivations.  And members of institutions will make decisions in order to survive that independently they wouldn't think of doing, but as an institution they simply must for the sake of self preservation.  So, in one sense all institutions and organizations are unforgivable because they do things that violate others.  They are principalities and powers.

But they can be transformed.  That's the hope of the reign of God - that institutions can be called to accountability and that they can practice repentance.  For example, Luther said absolutely heinous things and unforgivable things about the Jews.  Last year the Lutheran church recognized that, distanced themselves from that particular part of Lutheran teaching, and expressed an apology.  The Pope co-operated with Nazism during World War II.  At last the Roman Catholic church three years ago came to recognize it's need for repentance about that.  There's something to be said for giving a sincere apology rather than giving an account.  Institutions can do that.  Unfortunately they usually only do it when they think they are going to survive better by having done it.

David Augsburger   interviewed in Steps (NARC)


Charge it to me   

There is a simple, lovely illustration of the real meaning of forgiveness in the New Testament, in the short letter to Philemon.  Paul had befriended a runaway slave, Onesimus, and was now sending him back to his Christian master, Philemon.   Onesimus became a Christian in prison with Paul.  So Paul wrote to Philemon: Do not hold his wrongs against him; treat him as a new brother in God’s family.   And he says, ‘Welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he has done any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me’ (v 17-18).

St Paul   Philemon 1-21 (NIV)


Choosing to feel guilty rather than helpless

There is a human tendency to accept personal blame for suffering (that befalls us).  People often would rather feel guilty than helpless.  If the reason for misfortune is moral rather than natural, we can persuade ourselves that we can control it.  If guilt is the price to be paid for the illusion of control over nature, many people have seemed willing to pay it.

Elaine Pagels  "Adam, Eve and the Serpent"


Choosing to forgive

Neither you nor I have to forgive anyone who has hurt us.  On the other hand, we can forgive all who have done us harm.  The decision is ours to make.  I want to teach you to put forgiveness on your response menu so you can choose it when needed ...  Unfortunately forgiveness is rarely discussed and less often practised.  Research suggests that most people do not consider forgiveness when deciding how to deal with the cruelties of life.  The omission of forgiveness from our menu of choices is hurting us in mind, body and spirit.

Forgiveness is not something esoteric or otherworldly.  Forgiveness is a skill that you can learn.  Forgiveness takes place by undoing each of the steps of the grievance process.  We learn to balance the impersonal aspect of hurt with the personal, which most of the time means taking something painful less personally.  We take responsibility for how we feel when someone hurts us.  Finally, we change our grievance story to a forgiveness story, where we become the hero instead of the victim.

Fred Luskin  "Forgive for Good" pp 63-65


Christian idealism that denies a desire for revenge

Many of us tend to define our own lives more by whom we hate than by whom or what we love.  This can be both because of resentment and hatred that arise from our encounters with, and perhaps our suffering at the hands of, real enemies; but we must also confront our temptations to create enemies as a way of preserving our own distorted identities or our presumptions of power.

However, Christians have tended to deny or repress either of these judgements.  We have wanted to deny the reality of (our) hatred or desires for revenge, believing that the call to forgive requires us to deny that reality in the name of love and forgiveness.  This results in cheap grace with untransformed passions, thoughts, and actions.  Hence, through a curious irony, which Nietzsche was quick to note, too many Christians (and others) have linked together a repressed hatred and an ideology of forgiveness.  The results, unsurprisingly, are devastating for everybody concerned: for those who inflict suffering and those who suffer, and more broadly, for our communities and our politics.

By contrast, Christians ought to conjoin a clear recognition that there will be enemies, that is, people who are opponents of the crucified and risen Christ, with an acknowledgement that we are nonetheless called to love them.  As I suggested earlier, enemies (of Christianity) are defined in the first instance by their unwillingness to live as forgiven and forgiving people, as people who seek to live in the light of God's reconciliation.  They are people and political entities who seek vengeance rather than forgiveness, who seek to dominate and abuse rather than to repent and reconcile, who seek to repay violence with violence rather than with love, who seek vainglory rather than humility.

L Gregory Jones   "Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis" p 262


Christian weapons   

God's grace should always characterise our words and deeds.  If we succeed, it will be because we have followed Dr Martin Luther King's example always to love those who hate us, doing battle with 'Christian weapons and with Christian love.' ...  In confrontation, Dr King said, 'Attack the false idea, not the person who holds that idea.'

Ralph Reed   "Active Faith" p 120


Civic notions of forgiveness

Psychologists and other counsellors who advocate forgiveness as a virtue (present) forgiveness as something that primarily serves the forgiver, something that will eventually be necessary for her or his mental health.

This psychological view of forgiveness has its limitations.  There is, indeed, a beauty in the idea that forgiveness is something an individual does for herself, to ennoble the spirit, and to reach a certain level of peace.  But … as noted earlier, forgiving in this way requires no change from the perpetrator; it requires no apology; and it requires no response from the broader community.  It only repairs the victim’s individual psyche.

Recently a journalist asked me to comment on why women apologize so much?  She was looking, I believe, for some statements about women’s low self-esteem or the like.  But turning the question on its head, I asked, why don’t men apologize more?  And, what is "too much" for apologizing?  These apologies could be signs of caretaking and benevolence ...

If we reach toward a transactional definition of forgiveness, we can begin to speak of the possible uses of forgiveness in civic life.  This is concerned with restoring the relationship between offender and community.  It involves enabling a true transaction, where the wrongdoer claims personal responsibility, apologises with understanding, and attempts to right the wrong.

I am currently concerned with society’s practices toward sex offenders, who are given less and less reason to show remorse, confess, and make reparation.  Public outrage against sex offenders is so high that all kinds are grouped together as monsters who are incurable.  There is also mistrust in the penal system’s ability to rehabilitate these criminals.  While we may advocate forgiveness in victims, as a society we advocate publicly an undying resentment towards perpetrators.

Victims can leave relationships with offenders, but communities can not. Thus civic forgiveness – the notion that we must restore the relationship between offender and community – is even more urgent. Prisons viewed as ‘time-outs’ (to use a nursery school term) could and should revolve around changing and rebuilding the character of the prisoner.  Self-reflection and guidance rather than isolation and shunning, lead to changed character.  The opportunity to make reparations that reconnect offenders to the community in meaningful ways also serves to open the way to civic forgiveness.

Sharon Lamb  Dept of Psychology, St Michael’s College, Vermont


Closing an employment well

Good termination affirms what has been worthwhile and healthy, names what has been hurtful and diminishing, offers thanksgiving for what has been constructive, asks forgiveness for what has been destructive and enables everyone to move on.

Episcopal Church USA   Guidelines for clergy employment in "Prayer in the Calling Process"



What is compassion?  It is the ability to enter into the mind and heart of another, to share his sorrow, to know him 'from within', thus giving rise to mercy and understanding. 

In the Revelations of Divine Love Julian of Norwich calls compassion a wound.  It is so because human experience teaches us that if we love we suffer.  It's therefore easier not to love, for if we do we give the other power to hurt us.  The pains of those we love become our own, and the more we love the more we open ourselves to possible rejection, with its attendant emotions.   If we love we 'feel' for others, and the more we widen our hearts to include all, the more we shall find ourselves bearing the sorrows of the world.

Elizabeth Ruth Obbard   "Magnificat"   pp 47, 49-50


Compassion for yourself

One of the qualities that you can develop, particularly in your older years, is a sense of great compassion for yourself.  When you visit the wounds within the temple of memory, the places where you made bad mistakes and now feel such regret, you should not blame yourself.  Sometimes you have grown unexpectedly through these mistakes.   Frequently, in a journey of the soul, the most precious moments are the mistakes.  They have brought you to a place which you would otherwise have always avoided.  

If you visit this configuration of your soul with forgiveness in your heart, it will fall into place itself.  When you forgive yourself, the inner wounds begin to heal.  You come in out of the exile of hurt into the joy of inner being.  This art of integration is very precious.  You have to trust your deeper, inner voice to know which places you need to visit. 

John O'Donohue "Anam cara" p 225


Condemnation and 'reasonable doubt'

Condemnation. That's what the death penalty sets in stark relief: our right to judge and our right to condemn ... It is worth testing our own prejudices when it comes to condemnation.  Perhaps we can try to quantify what we mean by doubt or certainty.  When you think someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt what percentage proof do you want to be sure?  A little more than 50%?  What's the lowest you would go?  80%?  95%?

I was talking to a very liberal, very enlightened federal judge recently and she said she thought that proof beyond a reasonable doubt was about 75%.  Consider what that means; there are 2 million people in American prisons, and if you aim to get it right 75% of the time, then you aim to have 500,000 innocent people in prison.   Even if you aim for 95% you aim to have 100,000 innocent people in prison.  If you aim for 99% you are still shooting for 20,000.

It is frightening to say that, whatever the American target of the moment, they are missing it. In New Orleans recently, we started a project to try and represent everybody who gets arrested on capital charges.  New Orleans is only a city of half a million people, but in the last two and a half years we have concluded 119 death penalty cases where people have been arrested for first degree murder.  Of those 119, an incredible 100 have been proven innocent.  That is 84%.

It is perhaps even more frightening that before January 1st, 1999, when we began this project and started a vigorous investigation the moment that someone was arrested, the conviction rate on such charges was over 60%.  Imagine the number of people falsely convicted before that time.  Indeed, while numbers can never tell you the whole story, in this case they do paint a terrifying picture of the judicial system and all those people who were proud to say, beyond a reasonable doubt, “we have the right to take your life.” 

That's why when you are looking at capital punishment its not the death penalty we need to question - we all know that is wrong - it is how we judge our fellow human beings.  Every day, we judge those around us.  We are either harsh or understanding when we do this.  The consequences of each judgment may not be as significant as a capital trial, but our accumulated condemnation over a lifetime may be even more severe.

Clive Stafford Smith  Lecture to the British Institute of Human Rights, 2004


Confessions of a 'justified sinner'   

Before the (Passover) Jesus wanted to wash the disciples' feet (John 13.8-10).  At first Peter was reluctant to have Christ serve him in such a humiliating fashion.  He told the Lord, "Never shall you wash my feet!"  Jesus replied, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with me."  Peter then said, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head."  Jesus' reply draws a clear distinction between two types of cleansing: "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean, and you are clean, but not all of you." 

Bathing illustrates the forgiveness of justification.  Those who are justified are forgiven the penalty of sin forever.   They do not need to be justified again.  The day-to-day effects of their sin still need to be dealt with, however.  Sin needs to be confessed and forsaken regularly, and the pardon of a loving but displeased Father must be sought ... Divine forgiveness has two aspects.  The judicial forgiveness God grants as judge, purchased by the atonement, is the forgiveness of justification.  The other is the parental forgiveness God grants as Father, which (according to the Lord's Prayer) we are to seek daily when our sin has grieved him. 

John MacArthur   "The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness" pp 57-8, 99


Corporate forgiveness   

You wouldn't start a long-distance race carrying heavy baggage.  Your organization would also benefit from its members forgiving the past and letting go of emotional baggage so you can all move forward.  Resenting events in your past does not enhance your future.  Depending upon the research you read, 50% to 70% of organizational change initiatives have failed and were generally not pleasant.  Your organization's next change initiative is much more likely to succeed if you forgive your leaders and yourself for previous organizational failures.  Organizational change agents who neglect to heal the past before selling the future need to realize that they are not being heard.

Scott Arbuthnot   "Corporate Forgiveness - The Undiscovered Change Step"


Despising the afflicted   

Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red-hot iron, it stamps the soul to its very depths with the scorn, the disgust and even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement which crime logically should produce but actually does not.  Men have the same carnal nature as animals.  If a hen is hurt, the others rush upon it, attacking it with their beaks.  This phenomenon is as automatic as gravitation.  Our senses attach all the scorn, all the revulsion, all the hatred which our reason attaches to crime, to affliction.  Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent, although practically no one is conscious of it.

Simone Weil  The Love of God and affliction in "Waiting on God" pp 80-81


Discipline and punishment   

The root of the word discipline means 'learning' - the same root as for 'disciple'.  It is better to think of discipline within an educational frame of reference.  The person disciplined should learn and grow through the process, following a way or a person, rather than obeying a law.  Through discipline people are brought back into fellowship and held within it.   Through discipline in a context which is just, fair and loving, the offender's worth and responsibility and potentiality are recognised and affirmed ...  Punishment is the negative side of a comprehensive process of growth in which both positive and negative incentives may have their part to play.  But punishment outwith that context, punishment that is only one-sided and without a greater purpose, would be unjust.

Chris Wood "The End of Punishment"

(Centre for Theology and Public Issues, Edinburgh)  p 71


Disgust and oppression   

Disgust is an infectious idea. It’s one which can be passed from one person to another ... Disgust has been exploited, and it is a very effective means that our leaders have found to make us into armies and get us out there to kill … because it helps to de-humanise and make people into animals, make the enemy into something less than human, designated as something contaminated, dirty and dangerous.

Val Curtis (epidemiologist, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine),

Anatomy of Disgust, C4TV 2000


Distinguishing between guilt and shame

We tend to use the words guilt and shame more or less interchangeably, as synonyms for feeling bad about ourselves.  But psychologists and anthropologists see themselves as different emotions.  Basically, they see guilt as feeling bad for what you have done or not done, while shame is feeling bad for who you are, measured against some standard of perfection or acceptability. 

The distinction is crucial, because we can atone for the things we have done more easily than we can change who we are.  But human nature being what it is, we move so easily from one to the other.  We hear criticism of something we have done, and translate it into a comment about what sort of person we are.  We assume it is our worth as a person, not just our behaviour, that is being judged and found wanting ...

Psychologists make a second distinction between guilt and shame.   Guilt, they say, is a judgement we pass on ourselves.  It is a voice inside our heads telling us we did something wrong.  Shame is a sense of being judged by someone else.  It is visual rather than auditory, not an inner voice but a sense of being exposed, being looked at and judged by someone whose opinions we take seriously ... Shame is the product of a community.

Harold Kushner   How good do we have to be?  pp 35-40


Domestic violence initiated by women

The Lord Chancellor’s guidance to English courts on domestic violence is a disturbing document. Although it says that the definition of domestic violence must be ‘gender neutral’ and makes passing reference to evidence that most violence against children is perpetrated by mothers, it is almost exclusively concerned with domestic violence by fathers.  It’s not just Britain that has fallen victim to the notion that endemic male violence is the symptom of patriarchal power over women.  It’s convulsing the legal systems in America, Canada, Ireland and much of Europe too.

(Yet) a vast body of authoritative international research reveals a remarkably different picture from the feminist stereotype of patriarchal bullies and female victims.   Professor John Archer is a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire and president-elect of the International Society for Research on Aggression.  In a recent analysis of data from almost 100 American and British studies, he found that women are now more likely than men to initiate violence against their spouses or companions, and are more likely to be aggressive more frequently.  Among female college students, for example, 29% admitted initiating assaults on a male companion.

Modern secular values, Archer says, have combined with the economic and social emancipation of women to enable them to end relationships with little cost and small risk of male aggression.  The result is the rise in female violence.  The balance of power between men and women has shifted.

Melanie Phillips  Sunday Times 19.11.00


Don't carry a corpse   

God gives us the power to release people from their indebtedness to us.  They owe us, we think, because they've wronged us.  But many of the people who we think owe us don't even acknowledge their debt.   Maybe they don't understand it, or refuse to acknowledge it.  It doesn't matter what their reason is because God gives you the power to release them.  Don't carry that corpse of a spoiled relationship around on your shoulder indefinitely.  Unilateral forgiveness frees you and in the process gives you power to live for Christ, to pour your energies into something constructive.

Juan Carlos Ortiz  "God is closer than you think"  pp 60-61


Don't forgive too soon

As we begin to speak about forgiveness, I caution myself about speaking about it too soon, before we have appreciated evil’s crushing burden in the lives and deaths of those who have suffered its most immediate impacts.

I am a fortunate Manhattanite who did not work last Tuesday in the World Trade Center.   I was not the father who phoned from a top floor to say goodbye to his wife and two small children.  I am not the orphaned child of two parents massacred in Rwanda.   Nor did my own government in Pol Pot’s Cambodia widow me.  Nor did my son disappear in a prison in pre-1990 Johannesburg.  I have no right, therefore, to expect such victims of humanly enacted evil to turn soon to the possibility of forgiving those who have thus trespassed against them.  As one who believes that the God and Father of Jesus means to heal this world of its sins, I must not lose touch with that belief.

As for translating it into the realm of our fractured human affairs, I must beware of calling anyone to forgive until I have struggled to appreciate the depth of their suffering, the depth of the evils which they suffer and which I have not yet had to suffer.

Donald Shriver speaking at Worcester, Mass. just after 11 September
reprinted in "The Forgiveness We Need" p4


Empathy and guilt   

To me as a clinical psychologist, forgiveness is a human activity. Of course there is divine forgiveness, where God might forgive people for moral transgressions, but mostly what I've written about is how humans forgive one another. That really is important to people, whether or not they’re religious or spiritual. But for people who are very spiritually oriented, it seems to make an extra difference. It moves forgiveness higher up in their value systems, so not being forgiving can have consequences, not only in their health and relationships, but also for their spiritual lives.

Empathy is an emotional identification with someone else's experience.   So if unforgiveness is an emotional experience, empathy provides a different emotional experience that gets associated with the person who hurt you.  That empathetic emotional experience will change your facial expression, your body posture, the neuro-chemicals in your brain. It changes your actions toward the other person.  By changing your whole body experience of the person, empathy erodes the unforgiveness and replaces it with more compassionate understanding. 

Through empathy for a person who's hurt me, I can understand that person's feelings, but I may still hate what he or she did to me.  I think that in order to really have a forgiving sense, you need to go beyond empathy.  You need to recognise in a humble way that you, too, have hurt people, and you've been forgiven for some of those hurts.  If you think about it for awhile, you can draw on many cases where you've received forgiveness when you didn't deserve it. For religious people, it's often forgiveness from God.  As people reflect on those times, they usually feel very grateful.  They say, "I deserved condemnation for this nasty thing I did, but I got forgiveness, and I'm grateful - and I really would like to give that gift of freedom to the person who hurt me."

Everett L Worthington   in "Spirituality and Health"  Winter 1999


Empathy for the enemy

Richard von Weizs�cker of Germany refers to my book An Ethic for Enemies : Forgiveness in Politics in a speech he gave in August l995 in Tokyo.  Especially significant to me was the German leader's choice of reference, namely, a page in which I attempted to feel my way toward empathy with the suffering of Japanese soldiers in World War II, and toward awareness of the enormity of the evil that all sides had some part in promoting.  "The fragility of the moral integrity of each side," said von Weizs�cker, "comes to clear expression" on these pages.  He went on to pay tribute to Francis Mitterand, then president of France, who expressed the same empathy for the German soldier in World War II when he visited Berlin last May.

Empathy for enemies is perhaps the most difficult element of all. Political conflict, and especially war, is fuelled by dehumanization.  A Serbian officer last summer, in the process of killing Muslim men, called them "rabbits."  In the Pacific War we called the Japanese "monkeys" and they called us "demons."   Better to define enemies as inhuman; then we can kill them more easily.  But having once indulged in dehumanizing them, we will have to re-humanize them if we are to repair the damage we thus inflicted.  To empathize is not necessarily to sympathize; but at the minimum, it is to appreciate something of the nature of an antagonist's suffering.

We have a long way to go before we all internalize the Native-American view of American history, the African-American view, and, indeed, the Japanese and American views.   This element in political reconciliations comes slowly.  Out of the initiatives of a group of church leaders and the persistence of Chancellor Willy Brandt, German and Polish leaders in the late 60s and early 70s made tangible progress toward taking account of each other's experience of World War II.  Mutual consultation in the writing of each other's history books was part of that process, as was Brandt's extraordinary gesture of kneeling before the Warsaw Ghetto monument.  "Long as the road to reconciliation still is," commented German theologian Martin Stohr in l988 as he described this incident, "the process of alienation and violence was longer."  No single group of Americans has consistently demonstrated this truth in word and deed more than African-Americans.

Donald Shriver  Keynote Address to Woodstock Theological Center 1995


Field of Dreams

Movie producer Stephen Simon (including The Electric Horseman, What Dreams May Come, Indigo), the co-ordinator of The Spiritual Cinema Circle, included Phil Alden Robinson's much loved Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, in his recent 5 Spiritual Cinema Classics. He ended his assessment with:

Movies that connect on such a deep level as Field of Dreams have powerful messages inside of them or we would not resonate so deeply to them.  This film not only illuminates our connection to that voice within us, it also parts the veil between life and death with love and forgiveness at its core.  In discovering what transpires at the end of the film, we understand the real reason that Ray's inner voice has compelled him to build the field: reconnection and forgiveness with his own deceased father.   This theme resonates for us, I believe, on the obvious level of our desire for resolution with our parents but it also connects to the deeper issue of forgiveness.

The power of forgiveness is at once an immense power and also a formidable weapon.   When we choose to forgive, we release both ourselves and the person that we are forgiving.  Once the power to forgive is exercised, the energy shifts.  When we withhold forgiveness, we keep ourselves and the one seeking forgiveness in the places we have maintained as victim and perpetrator.  We can, of course, hold grudges forever and keep ourselves in that place of the wronged party or we can forgive and move on.   Choosing to forgive and being forgiven is at the core of the climax of Field of Dreams.  Ray forgives his father and thus allows them both to heal.  For everyone, that is a powerful and resonant message. For many more, it is a critical life lesson that we have chosen to play out in this lifetime.


Forgive and comfort him

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you (to some extent -  not to put it too severely).   The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.  Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you, therefore, to re-affirm your love for him ... If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him.  And what I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us; for we are not unaware of his schemes.

St Paul  2 Corinthians 2.5-11 (NIV)


Forgive and forget   

This expression has attained the status of a clich�.  When we grant forgiveness, does that entail a promise to forget the offence completely?  Yes and no.  There is obviously no way to purge the memory of an offence.  I've heard people suggest that God forgets our sins when he forgives.  They usually cite Hebrews 8.12 and 10.17.  But those verses don't say that God forgets our sins.  They say he will not remember them.  What's the difference?  To forget something is to have no memory of it.  Rather, he refuses to call our transgressions to mind.   He promises not to bring them up.  That is exactly what is involved in forgiveness.  It is a promise not to remind the person of the offence.  Jay Adams (in From Forgiven to Forgiving, p 25) characterises this as a three-fold promise:  "You promise not to remember his sin by bringing it up to him, to others, or to yourself.  The sin is buried."

John F MacArthur The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness pp 189-90


Forgiveness and Christlike suffering  

My brother’s burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin.  And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share.  Thus the call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins.  Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer   "The Cost of Discipleship" p 100


Forgiveness and justice

Forgiveness is not to condone or minimize the awfulness of an atrocity or wrong.  It is to recognize its ghastliness but to choose to acknowledge the essential humanity of the perpetrator and to give that perpetrator the possibility of making a new beginning.  It is an act of much hope and not despair.  It is to hope in the essential goodness of people and to have faith in their potential to change.  It is to bet on that possibility.  Forgiveness is not opposed to justice, especially if it is not punitive justice but restorative justice, justice that does not seek primarily to punish the perpetrator, to hit out, but looks to heal a breach, to restore a social equilibrium that the atrocity or misdeed has disturbed.

Desmond Tutu  interviewed by BeliefNet after 9/11


Forgiveness and spiritual identity

Choosing to begin the process of forgiveness brings us to the threshold of wisdom itself.  Our spiritual identity is no longer dependent on what others think of us, want from us, or have manipulated us into becoming.   Instead, we experience our lives as we are and as we find ourselves.

We discover how very much we need others, for in our thirst to forgive we are invariably lead to forgiving those we love.  It is no longer so difficult to accept our flaws.  We are no longer demanding that anyone be perfect.  We are no longer waiting on the sidelines for something to happen.  Forgiveness brings this all about.

Centuries ago this was expressed through the wisdom of Hillel:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  And if I am for myself, what am I?  And if not now, when?" (Pirkei Avos 1:14)

The great Hassidic master, the Rabbi of Kotz took Hillel's wisdom to mean the following:

"If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you.  But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you."

Rabbi Yehudah Fine   from an online seminar


Forgiving is more a lifestyle than an action

(A) mistake typical of many modern discussions of forgiveness is the view of morality to which they are indebted.  The dominant accounts of morality in modernity, namely Kantian deontology and Benthamite/Millian utilitarianism, have conspired to marginalise forgiveness as a significant moral issue or practice.  So part of the problem is that there have been few discussions of forgiveness at all in modernity ... Theories of morality since the Enlightenment have tended to focus either on metaethical inquiries (e.g., "What is the logical status of the claim 'X is good'?") or on the moral status of particular actions.

The recent resurgence of interest in Aristotelian moral philosophy, and more specifically in such Aristotelian themes as virtue, character, and the emotions, has brought with it a renewed interest in the philosophical significance of forgiveness.   However, people have typically grafted their discussions of forgiveness onto the mistaken assumptions and methods of the modern moral philosophy in which they have been trained.  Hence, most of the discussions continue to focus primarily on the act of forgiveness, while giving only minimal attention to notions of forgiveness as a specific practice or trait of character much less as an embodied way of life.  As such, they fail to see that forgiveness should not be confined to an analysis of specific, isolated acts, or even to the process of dealing with specific, isolated acts.

[This is part of why Joram Graf Haber, in his book Forgiveness, fails so miserably to see the significance of (Jesus') parable of the Unforgiving Servant.   The issue of forgiveness there is not primarily about a specific isolated act (though it involves the servant's failure to act forgivingly with the one indebted to him) but rather about the servant's failure to embody the forgiveness that he has received in his relations with others.]

From the Christian perspective I have been developing, forgiveness is not primarily a word that is spoken or an action that is performed or a feeling that is felt.   It is a way of life appropriate to friendship with the Triune God.

L Gregory Jones  "Embodying Forgiveness" pp 217-218



Forgiveness inside different types of communication   

There are lots of personal stories illustrating forgiveness at a personal, one-to-one level.  But it seems to be a legacy of religion's (especially mainline Christianity's) tendency to domesticate major human issues that forgiveness is heavily over-associated with 'being a victim,' as if only victims can forgive.  (Because of this domestication, for example, ‘real men’ usually find the idea of forgiveness a bit wimpish, as researchers at Stanford discovered.)

A helpful way to appreciate the much larger scale of forgiveness can be to see that forgiveness occurs inside a communication-relationship ... and there is not just one type of communication-relationship.  There are basically four types of this relationship, illustrated here by one of the various historic technologies that reflect them:

one-to-one (telephone)
one-to-many (TV and newspapers)
many-to-one (voting in democratic elections)
many-to-many (the internet)

So forgiveness should be possible and appropriate in all these ways, not just one-to-one.  What would this mean?  We are actually very aware of the second type:  Most world religions - particularly Christianity - provides dominant illustrations of a one-to-many forgiveness (by God).   Usually these concern forgiveness by the most powerful figure, towards many less powerful ones.  When the reverse is the case - a less powerful figure considering forgiving more powerful ones, we are asking, can people forgive institutions?  The 'many' to be forgiven are the representative leaders - perhaps a whole work force - who have damaged an employee, say a whistle-blower going public about organisational corruption, or a professional sacked or marginalised to protect the organisation's public profile.

Deepening our awareness of forgiveness means asking whether forgiveness in the other two communication modes (many-to-one, many-to-many) is really possible.  It's important to remember, in asking this question, that forgiving requires power (Gandhi, among many, said only the powerful can forgive) ... having the confidence, creative ability, resources, credibility, etc to make a new thing happen for another person or group.

Many-to-many is something we have to continue to struggle with in Northern Ireland, and perhaps the most dramatic recent illustrations have been in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.  It is also the motivation for "international debt forgiveness," which is surely a great illustration because it is based on one of the original meanings of forgiveness, release from debt.

Andrew Knock


Forgiveness invites conversion   

In a community, we live so close together that it is hard not to know everything that is wrong with each other, including the sins and mistakes of the past.  With this awareness comes a choice:   We can complain and judge the other person, or we can love him or her the way Jesus loved ...  This is the kind of love that deepens conversion in community.   Conversion begins with turning, and forgiveness invites that turning.  For most people, the experience of God's forgiveness occurs most directly through the forgiveness of their brothers and sisters.  Only out of that forgiveness are people enabled to move from their past into God's future for their lives.

Jim Wallis  "The Call to Conversion" p 126


Forgiveness needs to be embodied in others   

The 'courage to be' in this respect is the courage to accept the forgiveness of sins, not as an abstract assertion but as the fundamental experience in the encounter with God ... The objective power of acceptance and self-affirmation must be embodied in a person who can realise guilt, who can judge, and who can accept in spite of the judgement.  Acceptance by something which is less than personal could never overcome personal self-rejection.   A wall to which I confess cannot forgive me.  No self-acceptance is possible if one is not accepted in a person-to-person relationship

Paul Tillich "The Courage to Be" p 161


Forgiving and a kind of forgetting

As a legal and a moral concept the imperative to forgive is clear enough and yet emotionally forgiveness is more complex.  Sigmund Freud (quoted by Koestler, "The Arrow in the Blue", p. 26) said "When I have forgiven a fellow everything, I am through with him."    Forgiveness can be a subtle form of condescension, even of rejection. The reluctance to forgive particularly in such grave situations may be a fear of a premature closure, too quick a disconnection, too anxious to proceed with business as usual  

Logically, forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetfulness but forgiveness does entail a kind of forgetfulness.  Forgiveness assumes that the one who is asking to be forgiven is genuinely repentant.  The assumption is that he who asks for forgiveness will not repeat his malevolence.  "How indeed", Maimonides asks, "does one know when the other person who asked forgiveness from God or man is genuine?" The answer is given in his codes, "When the same opportunity presents itself for repeating an offence and you refuse to do it, not out of fear or weakness."  The test of the worthiness of forgiveness is in the future. 

So it has filtered down into folk humour, this story of two Jews who meet in the synagogue in the evening of the Day of Atonement.  They have had a history of cursing each other. They approach each other and each seeks forgiveness from the other and receives it.  As they enter the synagogue one says to the other "I wish you with all my heart just what you wish me."  The other says, "Aha, so you're starting up again?"

Rabbi Harold Schulweis   "Sermon on Forgiveness" VBS


Four qualities of love   

Loving-kindness is the first of a series of meditations that produce four qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita) and Equanimity (upekkha).   The quality of friendliness is expressed as a warmth that reaches out and embraces others. When the practice of loving-kindness matures it naturally overflows into compassion, as one empathises with other people's difficulties.  On the other hand one needs to be wary of pity, as its near enemy, as it merely mimics the quality of concern without empathy.

The positive expression of empathy is an appreciation of other people's good qualities or good fortune, or appreciative joy, rather than feelings of jealousy towards them. This series of meditations comes to maturity as on-looking equanimity. This 'engaged equanimity' must be cultivated within the context of this series of meditations, or there is a risk of it manifesting as its near enemy, indifference or aloofness. So, ultimately one remains kindly disposed and caring toward everybody with an equal spread of feeling and acceptance in relationships and situations without discrimination.

Venerable Pannyavaro "Loving-kindness Meditation" BuddhaNet


Going further    

Discipline, certainly, is needed to keep our loving straight, but not fear; for discipline is an expression of deeper love, it is a going-further, but fear is a drawing back ... Just as the enemy of faith," says John Davies, "is not doubt but the repression of doubt, so the enemy of grace is not guilt but the repression of guilt."  Forgiveness sets us free from the repression of guilt, free to be guilty if in fact we are guilty, free to be guilty if it is necessary to become guilty. 

This can only be true if forgiveness is continuous, not a past transaction but a ceaseless flow of loving acceptance.  Breathing that atmosphere, not only can one forgive, but one can also dare to take the blame, just as Jesus did.

John V Taylor "The Go-Between God" p 173


Good intentions which conceal rejection

When a man turns his back upon someone and walks away, it is so easy to see that he walks away.  But when a man hits upon a method of turning his face towards the one he is walking away from, walking backwards while with salutations he greets the person, giving assurances again and again that he is coming immediately or incessantly saying 'Here I am' although he gets farther and farther away by walking backwards ... then it is not so easy to become aware.

And so it is with the one who, rich in good intentions and quick to promise, retreats backwards farther and farther from the good.  With every renewed intention and promise it seems as if he takes a step forward, and yet he not only remains standing still but really takes a step backward.

S�ren Kierkegaard  "Works of Love" in Parables p 71


Grudges : maintaining or releasing them

For weeks in late 2004, “The Grudge” was the number one movie in America.  The first words that appear on the screen make it clear that the grudge is "a curse that causes its victims to die in the grip of a terrible rage." ... Now that the election is over, a common fear is that politicians may carry grudges that will hamper our democratic system.

A study by the University of Michigan found that 48 percent of us admit to holding grudges, and that probably the actual figure is much higher than that.

A grudge is actually a technique we use to gain control over someone who has wronged us. On a personal level, it's a way of demanding that they earn their way back into our lives and guarantee that "it" won't happen again. It's a way (but not the best way) of protecting ourselves from being hurt. At the political level, it is a type of constant campaigning, in which the person who holds the grudge can pull out an “I told you so” whenever a negative political situation arises from the opposing side.

But holding a grudge, whether for political, personal, or even frivolous reasons like sports rivalries, is hazardous to your health.   When we treasure our grudges like misers, we are insisting on our right to continue to be miserable. And that hatred destroys more than our health.

William Webber  article for Beliefnet


How not to counsel    

Job’s friends’ failure in ministry was basically a breakdown in their ability to really listen to Job and not necessarily have any answers but to stay in touch with his pain.  Theodore Robinson (in Job and his friends, SCM p 80) sees Bildad undergoing a kind of metamorphosis as he listens to Job’s outcries.  He notes how people who are naturally kind and sympathetic can be stirred emotionally into opposition and almost hatred by a shock to their feelings and a denial of their creed.  When those whom we seek to help inadvertently challenge our own beliefs by the honesty or forcefulness of their own sharing, we feel compelled to defend our own agendas.  In doing so we lose sight of the very reason we are there, which is to help them. 

Eliphaz illustrates another source of failure in ministry, the fact that we start with the assumption of what is wrong and see ‘our need’ as moving the other through a procedure by which we feel they will arrive at our predetermined destination of blessing.  This becomes paramount for the counsellor, who soon completely loses sight of any ability to be in touch with the client’s pain and trauma.

Russ Parker   "Free to Fail" pp 136, 134


Hung up on externals   

Believers who are spiritually immature also tend to get hung up on externals.  We see external sins so clearly and inner sins almost not at all. God wants us to be sanctified - spirit, soul and body.  But we usually make an issue only of the things of the flesh: sex, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, the way we dress, etc.   The sins we do not deal with are of much more consequence.  Moreover, if we do not overcome the inner sins, we will never get rid of the surface ones either. 

By inner sins, I mean sins of the soul, like pride.  I have never seen a brother disciplined or separated from the Lord’s Table because he was proud.  If he would smoke, yes, but he could be the most arrogant person around and not be disciplined.  Factions, ambition and the abuse of power, these are sins also, as is stubbornness.  Jealousy is one of the worst sins in the church, especially among leaders, but we never deal with that.  We are working on fornication, adultery, and drinking wine, even though all these sins are on the same level.

Juan Carlos Ortiz   "Cry of the Human Heart" p 30


ForgivenessNet home page

Back to Insights page