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I am far too just     

This business of forgiving is by no means a simple thing.  We say, "If the other fellow is sorry and begs my pardon, then I'll give in, and forgive him."   We make of forgiveness a law of reciprocity.  And this never works, for then both of us say to ourselves, "The other fellow has to make the first move."   And then I watch like a hawk to see whether the other person will flash a signal with his eyes ... which shows me he is sorry.  I am always on the point of forgiving ... but I never forgive.  I am far too just.

Helmut Thielicke "The Waiting Father" p 112


Insoluble problems   

I always worked with the temperamental conviction that in the last analysis there are no insoluble problems, and experience has so far justified me in that I have often see individuals who simply outgrew a problem which had destroyed others.  This "outgrowing" revealed itself on further experience to be the raising of the level of consciousness.  Some higher or wider interest arose on the person's horizon, and through this widening of his view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency.

It was not solved logically on its own terms, but faded out in contrast to a new and stronger life-tendency.  It was not repressed and made unconscious, but merely appeared in a different light, and so became different itself.  What, on a lower level, had led to the wildest conflicts and to emotions full of panic, viewed from a higher level of the personality, now seemed like a storm in the valley seen from a high mountain top.  This does not mean that the thunderstorm is robbed of its reality; it means that, instead of being in it, one is now above it.

Carl Jung  The Secret of the Golden Flower


Is forgiveness really a matter of religion?

Well, yes and no.  True enough, religion, especially Christianity, speaks much of forgiveness.  In fact, Jesus taught us that the forgiveness of God is inseparably connected with the forgiveness we owe each other. 

The Christian problem is that we have so often relegated forgiveness to the secrecy of a church sacrament or to sins of one person against another that we have neglected the importance of forgiveness in human society generally.  Both Catholics and Protestants have too much closeted forgiveness inside the church.  Since forgiveness is such a well-known doctrine in Christianity, secular people have assumed that forgiveness has little to do with ordinary, collective human relationships.   Other religions, too, have a place for forgiveness, but few have considered its place in ordinary collective affairs.

Certain world cultures know better.  They know what happens to ordinary human relations when something like forgiveness is absent.  I think, for example, of an ancient Korean village tradition called the annual ceremony of Hae Won Sang Saeng, literally translatable as "grudge removing inter-living."  The tradition calls for a ritual, every January 15, for neighbours to offer each other rice cakes.  As the author Kyu-Tae Lee describes it, "When one year passes, resentment among people always occurs, whether it is associated with interests, disadvantages, or misunderstandings ... The more grudges neighbours have, the larger a piece of rice cake they make ... In this way the new year gets under way, they remove the uncomfortable relationships of the last year and get off to a fresh start."

Donald Shriver   "The Forgiveness We Need"  pp 11-12


Jesus walked his talk   

The free gift of God's forgiveness lays upon men the demand of a forgiving spirit.  Jesus did not teach a new doctrine of forgiveness; he brought to lost sinners a new experience of forgiveness.   He did not tell the woman in the house of Simon that God was forgiving her or explain to her the way she might find salvation; he pronounced her sins forgiven (Luke 7.48).  This was her salvation.  Jesus did what he proclaimed.

George Eldon Ladd  "The Presence of the Future" p 215


Just as a stopped clock

Just as a stopped clock can bear permanent witness to the exact time of a particular atrocity, so the memory of a particular event in our past can have the power to close off the future and stop our life.  And it is not just the memory of our own misdeeds that halts us in life; being a victim of someone else's evil act can be even more immobilising.  One of the ways the human animal has learnt to deal with the pain of the past is by burying it behind a fog of denial.  It is as though we know instinctively that if we look too closely at the thing that was done to us it will completely paralyse us, so we hide it from ourselves like a mad relative in the back room of the basement.  But its presence down there leaches into our lives anyway, affecting our relationships and our general conduct in ways we ourselves probably never fully comprehend.

Richard Holloway  On Forgiveness pp 32-3


Justice through restitution

Restitution can embody both monetary payments and in-kind services to the victim.  According to Black’s Law Dictionary, restitution is an "act of restoring; restoration of anything to its rightful owner; the act of making good or giving equivalent for any loss, damage or injury; and indemnification."

Institutionalised restitution dates back to ancient times.  (Andrew Karmen provides a detailed survey in Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology, Brooks/Cole Publishing Co, 1990.)  Mosaic law required thieves to repay oxen to victims from whom they had stolen oxen.  The Roman law of Twelve Tables (449 BC) prescribed repayment schedules for theft of property.  In the case of violent offences, Middle Eastern codes, such as the Sumerian Code of Urnammu (c. 2050 BC) and the Code of Eshnunna (c. 1700 BC) required restitution.  In the ninth century AD in Britain, offenders were required to restore peace by making payments to the victim and the victim’s family.

The main purpose of institutionalised restitution was to prevent retaliatory violence for wrongdoing, providing a more ‘civilised’ means of reparation.  But, in the West, with the rise of the feudal aristocracy and the nation-state, royal officials began to assess fines, in an effort to increase coffers, for presiding over grievances and protecting offenders from retaliation.  Eventually, these fines began to crowd out restitution paid to the victim.  Finally, with the rise of the modern state’s assumption of the investigative, prosecutorial and enforcement functions, crime became treated primarily as a disruption of the state’s security; no longer were the financial hardships to private individuals of vital importance in criminal courts.   Restitution to the victim had fallen out of use.

With the rise of the recognition of the victim, several legal and criminological philosophers, penal reformers among them, called for the re-institution of restitution as a penal sanction.  Among them, Margery Fry is credited for bringing restitution to the forefront of the debate over restitution in the 20th century.

Restitution has the potential to repair the financial and perhaps relational harms that crime has left in its aftermath.  For example, Mark Bakker ("Repairing the Breach and Reconciling the Discordant: Mediation in the Criminal Justice System," North Carolina Law Review 72 1994) posits that restitution provides a sanction that is more clearly related to the offence than punitive measures, and it better restores a victim to the place he/she occupied before the offense.  Whereas retributive and rehabilitative responses fail to address the harm inflicted on victims, restitution, when sought as an outcome of a restorative process, has as its primary motivation reparation to the victim.   Thus, restitution is also said to better satisfy a victim’s need for vindication, as the offender must personally acknowledge and account for the offense.

Christopher Bright  Prison Fellowship International



The Buddhist tradition has a lovely concept of friendship.  This is the notion of the 'Kalyana-mitra,' the 'noble friend.'  Your Kalyana-mitra, your noble friend, will not accept pretension, but will gently and very firmly confront you with your own blindness.  No-one can see their life totally.  As there is a blind spot in the retina of the human eye, there is also in the soul a blind side where you are not able to see.  Therefore, you must depend on the one you love to see for you, where you cannot see for yourself.  Your Kalyana-mitra complements your vision in a kind and critical way.  Such friendship is creative and critical; it is willing to negotiate awkward and uneven territories of contradiction and woundedness.

John O'Donohue "Anam cara" pp 48-9


Leadership and peace in the Middle East

Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu was interviewed by Nathan Gardels, editor of New Perspectives Quarterly, in March 2002.   In the interview he emphasised the role of "quality of leadership" :

GARDELS: The South African reconciliation and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process began about the same time. Yours succeeded, but the process in the Middle East has totally collapsed. You have said that "there is no future without forgiveness...," that is, forgiveness instead of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

TUTU: There is no way peace and stability can come to the Middle East through the gun of vengeance.  That is true.  The Christian notion of forgiveness, let's not forget, arises out of a Judeo-Christian tradition.  In the book of the prophet Hosea, God asks him to take as his wife a woman who had become a prostitute.  This was a parable illustrating that God would not abandon even the unfaithful, but would keep them and cleanse them.  This idea of forgiveness is central in the Biblical faith.

One reason we succeeded in South Africa that is missing in the Middle East today is quality of leadership - leaders willing to make unpopular compromises, to go against their own constituencies, because they have the wisdom to see that would ultimately make peace possible.

In our case, F.W. De Klerk showed remarkable courage in his reforms, but he was blessed not with an intransigent, bitter and vengeful counterpart, but with the almost saintly magnanimity of Nelson Mandela.  The whites wanted to dig in their heels and the liberation movement was hell-bent on demanding every pound of flesh through retributive justice akin to the Nuremberg Trial.   Neither leader heeded these calls.

After 27 years in prison, no one could challenge Mandela when he said, "Let us forgive these guys."  Like De Klerk, he acknowledged the humanity and the anguish of his adversary.  Any process of peace is bound to collapse if this is missing.

De Klerk and Mandela also knew they couldn't get everything they wanted. They had to compromise. Unless there are concessions, there is no negotiation. All or nothing is not a negotiation. So, too, in the Middle East, Israelis must have sovereign security, but they must abandon settlements and grant the Palestinians their own state.

In the end, though, it must be said, it is not the weak who can be magnanimous, but the strong.

New Perspectives Quarterly :


More than morality

In a film called Violent Sunday, a gang of bank raiders hide from the police on the farm of a strict, Dukhobor-like religious community, one of whose most fundamental guiding principles is non-violence.  At the climax of the film one of the gangsters is about to shoot a young girl member of the community, in the presence of the community's elder.  With horror and doubt showing on his face, the elder seizes a pitchfork and hurls it into the gangster's back.

How are we to describe the elder's position?  According to a neo-Kantian position the elder has had to make a 'decision of principle,' which consists in either qualifying or perhaps abandoning the principle of non-violence according to which he has hitherto tried to live.  But several features of the situation seem to me to speak against this account.  In the first place, it is quite clear that the elder thinks he has done something wrong in killing the gangster.  It is not that he has abandoned or qualified his commitment to the principle of non-violence.

But in the second place, it is equally clear that the elder would think that in some sense he 'had no choice' in the situation.  That is how he had to act, and if he had acted differently he would not have been able to forgive himself ... i.e. that would have been wrong too, though perhaps in a different way.

Peter Winch  "Moral Integrity" pp 18-19


Most personal problems  

Early in my pastoral ministry I noticed an interesting fact: nearly all the personal problems that drive people to seek pastoral counsel are related in some way to the issue of forgiveness ... Some people are struggling with their own guilt; others have a sinful propensity to blame others and withhold forgiveness for wrongs done; and many people struggle with both guilt and blame.

John F MacArthur  "The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness" pp 7-8


Nero and frail leaders

The name of Nero has lingered on, as a spectacularly awful ruler who we nevertheless rather like, and I'm not at all sure that our reason for liking him, or at least indulging him, isn't very similar to that of the Roman mob.  We too can only too readily understand his lusts and his appetites.  And with understanding comes empathy, and with empathy comes forgiveness.  The French say, 'to understand all is to forgive all'.

I think there's a lot of truth in that in everyday life.  But when you are speaking of the great, it seems to take on renewed force.  If those who have the lusts of high office let us know about them, we are immensely flattered.  And inclined to forgive in them things that we wouldn't forgive in our own family, or even possibly in ourselves.  

Now, modern rulers in modern democracies are even keener than the Emperor Nero was, to tell us that they share our pain, that they're exactly like us, that their tastes are similar.  Indeed this is the constant refrain of modern democratic leadership.   People don't any more go around boasting that they are intellectually well equipped for the job, or that they've had long training for it.  They say it's a very ordinary job, and they are exactly like us.  The fact that Nero remains so popular, despite his actions, tells you why they're so keen to say that.

Perhaps it also tells us why we shouldn't be too cosy with our leaders even if they do persuade us that they're really engaging fellows.

Brian Walden  Walden on Villains, BBC 2001


Nietzsche's critical insight into 'Christian' forgiveness

To oversimplify his complex views, Nietzsche charged that Christian teachings about love and forgiveness do not acknowledge people's desires for revenge and for a will to power; they mask and repress them.  In Nietzsche's view, Christian virtue is "the vengeful cunning of impotence," in which weakness casts itself as strength and pretends to engage in forgiveness when it is really an inability to secure vengeance.   Nietzsche argues that "weakness is being lied into something meritorious,"

and impotence which does not requite into "goodness of heart"; anxious lowliness into "humility"; subjection to those one hates into "obedience"(that is, to one of whom they say he commands this subjection - they call him God).  The inoffensiveness of the weak man, even the cowardice of which he has so much, his lingering at the door, his being ineluctably compelled to wait, here acquire flattering names, such as "patience," and are even called virtue itself; his inability for revenge is called unwillingness to revenge, perhaps even forgiveness ("for they know not what they do -we alone know what they do!").  They also speak of "loving one's enemies" - and sweat as they do so. (On the Genealogy of Morals 1.14)

To deny one's desire for vengeance out of weakness is to practice a "forgiveness" and a "love" whose effects are not reconciliation and new life but rather repressed bitterness and hatred.  In such situations, our "love" of neighbours or of ourselves, much less of our enemies, is hardly a sign of authentic virtue.

Further, Nietzsche suggests that this weakness becomes even more pernicious through an internalisation of those judgements concerning who ought to be punished for one's suffering.  This is accomplished, Nietzsche suggests, through Christianity's deployment of the language of guilt and pastoral power (i.e., through the "ascetic priest").   Merold Westphal describes Nietzsche's strategy well:

It is the guilt potential of the ascetic ideal that the priest is able to exploit, and one could say that his moral authority is simply his ability to do so. To heal he must first wound, since a religion of forgiveness makes sense only to sinners.  The priest does this when he "alters the direction of ressentiment." We all seek an explanation for our suffering.  Resentment seeks "a guilty agent," one who is evil and deserves to be punished (since even if I lack the power to punish, there is satisfaction in knowing that my enemy deserves it).  (Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism p 242)

By redirecting the guilt to the agent herself, the priest gains enormous power to create a passive subject whose guilt produces a passive acquiescence in forgiveness.   Nietzsche writes:

"'I suffer: someone must be to blame for it' - thus thinks every sickly sheep.   But his shepherd, the ascetic priest, tells him: 'Quite so, my sheep! someone must be to blame for it: but you yourself are this someone, you alone are to blame for it - you alone are to blame for yourself!' - This is brazen and false enough: but one thing at least is achieved by it, the direction of ressentiment. is altered." (On the Genealogy of Morals, essay 3, section 15) 

Regrettably, such redirection and internalisation happen all too regularly when clergy (and laity, sometimes acting with "priestly power") blame the sufferers for suffering and do so in ways that perpetuate injustice and eclipse the possibility of authentic forgiveness.

Nietzsche's critique is not insurmountable, but its prophetic indictment is haunting.   Christian forgiveness should not be a refusal of strength, but rather ought to manifest an alternative power.

L Gregory Jones   Embodying Forgiveness pp 244-6


Organisational forgiveness   

I asked an American the secret of his firm's obviously successful development policy.   He looked me straight in the eye.  "Forgiveness," he said.   "We give them big jobs and big responsibilities.  Inevitably they make mistakes, we can't check them all the time and don't want to.  They learn, we forgive, they don't make the same mistake again."

He was unusual.  Too many organisations use their appraisal schemes and their confidential files to record our errors and our small disasters.  They use them to chastise us with, hoping to inspire us or to frighten us to do better.  It might work once, but in future we will make sure that we do not venture far enough from the beaten track to make any mistake.  Yet no experiment, no test of new ideas ... means no learning and no change.  As in organisations, so in families.

Charles Handy  "The Age of Unreason" p 60


Overcoming hatred with compassion

I've defended people who I believe are innocent and those who are apparently guilty. I see no situation where the death penalty is right, and none of the the terrible things I've seen and heard have shaken that belief. In fact, the worse the crime the simpler the explanation. We are all better than the worst 15 minutes of our lives .....

One of the people I admire most in the world is Lorilei Guillory, whose six-year old son, Jeremy, was murdered by a paedophile, Ricky Langley. At Ricky's retrial, having spent hours talking to him, she testified for the defence. She said in court: "Ricky Langley has been crying out for help since the day he was born. As I sit here I can hear the death cries of my child, but I can still hear that guy crying out for help."

It's blindingly obvious to me that the happiest people are those who try to overcome hatred with compassion.

Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith - Sunday Times 16-04-06


Paedophiles are people too

Paedophilia has become in popular culture an 'unforgivable sin,' perhaps the unforgivable sin.  The commentator Johann Hari has written about this on various occasions, and in this extract from an article "Remember: paedophiles are people too" he provides rare and compassionate insight :-

Every time a child abuse story is thrust on to our front pages, I search fruitlessly for coverage that will answer basic questions about paedophiles.  Press coverage and popular myth invite us to see paedophiles as cold, clever Machiavellian plotters.   Sometimes this is true ... but far more often, they are sad, pitiful losers, the furthest of outcasts from our society.  And every time I am shocked to realise that, in all the rotting acres of newsprint expended on this topic, there has been almost no discussion of such serious questions as:  Can paedophiles be treated?  How did they become this way?  How can we reduce the odds of them abusing children, either for the first time or as repeat offenders?

Last year (2002) I visited Maidstone Prison's Sex Offenders Wing, where Britain's most notorious child molesters are held.  Far from being the Hannibal Lecters I had expected, these paedophiles were mumbling, pitiful wrecks – barely literate, with no social skills or ability to make adult contact.  The lengthy and extensive sex offender treatment programmes they were on did seem to have genuinely made them think for the first time about the damage they were causing; when they had abused children before, they had been too mentally limited and socially stunted to understand that they were causing horrific damage.

Even intelligent paedophiles have a strong chance of having been molested themselves, and therefore of having had their sexuality moulded at the earliest possible age into a horribly deformed shape.  Ray Wyre, an expert on paedophiles (they do exist, though we rarely call them), explains that "66 per cent of paedophiles claim to have been victims of sexual abuse, although that falls to 36 per cent when you use a lie detector". He added: "Paedophilia is often about learnt behaviour. The abuser almost clones himself by taking power over his victim, because, as the victim grows, he mimics this behaviour."

Most of the paedophiles I met had given credible testimony of sexual abuse ... All of this will be hard for right-wingers to accept. They want straightforward evil; to condemn, not understand. But there is a hard truth that we on the left will have to accept, too: paedophilia is an intractable sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or homosexuality, that cannot be "trained out" of a person.  Research by the Australian psychologist J K Marques and his colleagues, published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behaviour, indicates that a man who is sexually attracted to children always will be.   This goes against our natural belief in the possibility of redemption and the possibility of criminals being allowed a "fresh slate" after their release.

We cannot hope for a cure – that is not realistic, and paedophiles can never be released from the hell of being attracted to people who are incapable of reciprocating. However, they can undergo counselling that reduces their chances of re-offending substantially.  I was persuaded of this by the wealth of evidence forwarded to me by academic psychologists since I last wrote about this topic, where I said I suspected that even limited treatment would not work. Home Office research has proved me wrong.

This can obviously be done through the sex offender treatment programmes in prisons – but it would also be a good idea for the Government to launch a high-profile campaign that can reach paedophiles before they begin to offend.  This could take the form of adverts on national television, which should carry the message: "If you find yourself sexually attracted to children, we will help you to make sure you do not act on it."

Johann Hari  The Independent 15/01/03



The worst thing that can be said of us at the end of our lives is that we were petty.  Petty people are ugly people.  They are people who have lost their vision.  They are people who have turned their eyes away from what matters and focussed, instead, on what doesn't matter.

Mike Yaconelli "Wit and Wisdom for life's journey" p 34


Preaching moral conversion  

The habit of preaching moral conversion from the pulpit serves merely to pin down baptized Christians to a contrite consideration of their own sinfulness.  It is as if they were sitting not within the church but without.   It achieves little more than to support a vicious circle of indeterminate guilt consciousness and a self-righteous faith in justification ...

It (also) contributes to the continuous ruin of the credibility of Christian language.  Next Sunday, after all, the same sermon will be heard again, since the preacher obviously does not feel that this Sunday the word of God effectively achieved conversion in the community.  But of course, the congregation also knows that this is just the style of preaching.  No one anticipates any significant change.

Wolfhart Pannenberg   "Christian Spirituality and Sacramental Community" p 26-7


Privatising forgiveness  

People are mistaken if they think of Christian forgiveness primarily as absolution from guilt; the purpose of forgiveness is the restoration of communion, the reconciliation of brokenness ... (But) as Christianity increasingly distanced itself from its Jewish roots and became the established religion in the fourth century … the confession of sin, which was in its origins primarily – though not exclusively – a communal practice, moved from the community to individualised and increasingly privatised contexts.  Further, Christian piety turned increasingly inward; God’s forgiveness became principally an individual transaction between God and a particular person … with virtually no consequences for either Christian community or social and political life.

Gregory Jones   "Embodying forgiveness" pp 5, 38


Pushing people away   

In community it is so easy to judge and then condemn others.   We lock people up in a category: "He or she is like this or that."   When we do that we refuse them the possibility of growing. Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn.  This is the sin of community life.  If we judge, it is often because there is something inside us that we feel guilty about and which we do not want to look at or allow others to see.  When we judge, we are pushing people away; we are creating a wall, a barrier.  When we forgive we are destroying barriers, we come closer to others.

Jean Vanier   "Community and Growth" p 36


Questioning is wiser than blind belief

Certainty is the first cousin to absolutism, which is the mother of fanaticism, which is the father of "I'm right and you're wrong and now you have to die for it."   But skepticism, a willingness to question my own beliefs, is what leaves the door open.  And that's a way to know that when you do walk out that door, you're really walking in faith, not the infatuation with being right.

Oddly enough the more I question, the more I grow in faith.  Because it leads me to dig deep, to go beyond the easy answer.  When you think you know it all, you miss things, most of all a moment of discovery that what your mind can hold at the moment may not be nearly all there is to know.

One of the best ways I've found to do that is to be in constant contact with people I don't agree with.  One of the great gifts of being a journalist is the ability to be the moth drawn to the flame ... so I can draw near to the very thing that frightens and appals me.  I seek out the very thing that most troubles me - but I commend the method to all of you.

The more I question, the stronger I grow in my faith because I continually find out that God can take it.  God can take it.  Because God is bigger than me, stronger than me, and has thought of things that would never occur to me.  I chose my faith.   Amazingly, the more I push and pull at it, the more it chooses me.

Michel Martin    ABC News correspondent, at National Cathedral, November, 2002.


Reconciliation is the goal

Reconciliation is always the goal when we confront someone about a wrong done.  If your confronting aims at punishing the offender, or if it is simply a means of castigation and censure, you are confronting with the wrong aim in mind.  The goal of all righteous confrontation is the repair of a broken relationship and the restoration of the offender.  Whenever there is a broken relationship between Christians, both parties have a responsibility to seek reconciliation. 

If you are the offended party, Luke 17.3 applies: "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him."  You are the one who must go to him.  If you are the offender, Matthew 5.23-4 applies: "If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."

The public aspect of the discipline (outlined in Matthew 18) is a final resort, not the first step. The point of 'reporting a person’s offence to the church' is not to get church members to shun the sinning individual, but precisely the opposite: to encourage them to pursue that person in love, with the aim of restoration.

John MacArthur   "The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness" pp 132, 137


Recreate your past   

When you forgive someone, you slice away the wrong from the person who did it.  You disengage that person from his hurtful act.  You recreate him.  At one moment you identify him ineradicably as the person who did you wrong.  The next moment you change that identity.  He is remade in your memory.  You think of him now not as the person who hurt you, but a person who needs you ... Once you branded him as a person powerful in evil, but now you see him as a person weak in his needs.  You recreated your past by recreating the person whose wrong made your past painful.

Lewis Smedes  "Forgiveness" in Christianity Today, Jan '83  p 24


Revenge : easing my own guilts

One of the reasons that people choose not to forgive is that, if you focus on revenge, then what you’re able to do is to push away the feelings of guilt you may have.  One of the things that worries me about the Jamie Bulger case is the way that Jamie’s mother – although she’s married again and had another child and seemingly got on with her life – she can’t let go of the feeling that the two boys who killed her beautiful baby must be punished for ever and ever, no matter how terrible that punishment is.

I know the capacity you can have, as a mother, to feel guilty about anything that happens to your child, even though it was something that you could not possibly have prevented.  So I wouldn’t be surprised if the way Jamie’s mother is dealing with this really painful feeling of guilt is to push it aside and focus on vengeance.

Dorothy Rowe   (psychologist) On being wrong, BBC Radio 4 2001


Reward the good, forgive the bad    

The evidence is quite consistent: if you reward the good and ignore or forgive the bad, the good will occur more frequently and the bad will gradually disappear.  A concern over trouble in the classroom led to research into the way teachers allocate praise and blame.  About equally, it seemed, except that all praise was for academic work and all blame was for behaviour.  The teachers were coached to only give praise, for both academic work and good behaviour and to ignore the bad.  It worked.  Within a few weeks unruly behaviour had almost disappeared. 

More difficult than forgiving others is to forgive oneself.  That turns out to be one of the real blocks to change.  We as individuals need to accept our past but then to turn our backs on it.  Organisations often do it by changing their name, individuals by moving house, or changing spouses.  It does not have to be so dramatic.  Scrapbooks, I believe, are useful therapy - they are a way of putting the past to bed, decorously.  Then we have to move forward.

Charles Handy  "The Age of Unreason" p 61


Righteous and a sinner   

A Christian man is righteous and a sinner at the same time, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God.  None of the sophists will admit this paradox because they do not understand the meaning of justification.

Martin Luther "Lectures on Galatians" LW 26 pp 232-3


Shakespeare and forgiveness

Robert Grams Hunter, in Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness, explains how the morality plays that preceded Shakespeare’s drama necessarily concluded "with the forgiveness of an erring hero."

In morality plays like Everyman, one guilty man stands for all men, and the action of the play presents the one ultimate drama, the comedy - in Dante’s sense - by which forgiveness is achieved.   Everyman, who is a good Catholic, earns his forgiveness through confession, penance, contrition, and good works.  Shakespeare’s presentation of forgiveness places a similarly heavy emphasis on winning pardon by works, suffering, and repentance.   In The Winter’s Tale, for example, years pass before Leontes is forgiven his disastrous outburst of anger and jealousy.  During this time he is tested, proven strong, and judged worthy of forgiveness. 

On those occasions when Shakespeare allows characters to earn forgiveness with less difficulty, it is often granted by a woman who combines in one character the role of romantic lover and Mary.  Hence Isabel in Measure for Measure offers a not fully earned forgiveness, calling upon a more radical argument for mercy.  Like Hamlet, she maintains that if all men are guilty, then all equally deserve punishment or, alternatively, all are equally worthy of divine and human forgiveness.

Tom Trzyna   Forgiveness and Truth: Literary Reflections of Christian Ethics, SPU review 5:2


Sharing our security - national and personal

In May 2004 Professor Donald Shriver contributed to a forum at The Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, in connection with a new Woodstock book, Forgiveness in International Politics: An Alternative Road to Peace:

(In developing) doorways to social forgiveness it is indispensable that a victim (can be) advanced to the earnest question, “Why did they do that to us?”   Patience to that question was in low repute after 9/11 in this country.  The few citizens who asked for understanding of suicidal bombers got accused of excusing the crimes.  One has to ask whether politically enacted suffering closes or opens the door to international empathy.  Why does suffering imprison some people away from other people’s suffering, whereas for others, suffering opens the door to empathy with other peoples? 

Not every Christian church in the land, Catholic or Protestant, lifts prayers of intercession for the grieving families of the Iraqi dead or expresses glimmers of grief for the 10 to 1 ratio of Iraqi dead to our dead so far.  Forgiveness of enemies can hardly get off the ground without a retreat from the dehumanisation of enemies.

There is a story in the rabbinic tradition about the Exodus from Egypt, which brought tears to the eyes of God.  “Why?” the angels asked.   God replied, “Because of all my people, the Egyptians, drowning in the Red Sea.”  Well, forgiveness in politics has to be a long story. In its own way, a version of Max Weber’s definition of politics: slow boring of hard boards.  The hardness derives from our human propensity for preferring our interests over the interests of others, our security over theirs.  It’s the sin that forever clings so closely to both personal and political reality.

Donald Shriver   Forgiveness in International Politics: An Alternative Road to Peace


Six strategies for stepping into forgiveness

A useful summary of the approach of Beverly Flanigan, professor of social work and author of Forgiving the Unforgivable:

1  Name the injury   Just what did the person do that hurt you?

Claim the injury   Recognise just how it affects you.  It's now a part of who you are.

Put the blame where it belongs   Forget the civilians and other bystanders.  Who perpetrated the crims?

Balance the scales   Figure out how to reprimand the person who hurt you, restore something you've lost - money, for example, or reputation - or decide to move on.

5  Choose to forgive   If it helps, put a picture of your injurer on an empty chair and, when you feel ready, practice saying, "You don't owe me anything anymore.  I don't want you to repay me.  You are free."
    Or, write out an IOU that lists every debt your injurer owes you.   Then look at the list.  Can your injurer ever repay you?  Right.   Shred the IOU.

6 Recognise how forgiveness transforms your life    You're just not the same person.  You've changed from a hurting woman who doesn't understand the harm done to her, to a woman who incorporates the injury into her life, and to a woman who no longer thinks of herself as injured.

Ellen Michaud   Diane (Curves), Winter 2005


Should the wrongdoer be made to pay?

The noted Death Row lawyer Clive Stafford Smith was interviewed by Sue Lawley for BBC Radio's Desert Island Discs in November 2004.  The programme included this exchange:

We'd be total hypocrites, wouldn't we, if we said of folk, "We're all better (people) than the worse thing we ever did," but then we turn round to the guy whom we don't like and say, "I'm going to hate you because of the worse thing you ever did."

Q:  But Clive, do you believe that anybody should take responsibility for the crimes that they commit?

It's one thing to say, "You should recognise what you've done, and you shouldn't do it in the future, and you should apologise for it, and this, that and the other."  It's another thing to say that responsibility entails being put in prison, executed or whatever ...

Q:  But - the death penalty apart - do you think that people should be made to pay for their crimes?

Certainly not.

I think that the first thing we should do is say, "If that were my brother or sister, what would I do then?"  Certainly if it was my brother or sister who did it, my response would be to be asking, Why did it happen, and How to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.

Q:  How do you do that?  You've got to confine them in some way?

Actually you don't.  There are only a very few we have to confine ... the people who are genuinely dangerous to themselves or others.

Q:  If you don't put people in prison, what do you do with them?

Take burglars, for instance.  I am in favour of what the New Zealanders do, for example - Restorative Justice - where those folk are forced to go through a programme to learn what they did to the victims, and the victims have a chance to meet the people who victimised them.  I think we abuse the prison system in a ghastly way, which will come back to haunt us ...


Small and large acts of leadership    

Leadership in (today's) world, this new landscape you are entering, is not about hierarchy or title or status; it is about having influence and mastering change.  Leadership is not about bragging rights or battles or even the accumulation of wealth; it's about connecting and engaging at multiple levels.  It's about challenging minds and capturing hearts.  Leadership in this new era is about empowering others to decide for themselves.  Leadership is about empowering others to reach their full potential.

There are small and large acts of leadership.  And small acts of leadership can change the world as surely as large acts.  Ultimately they can have as much effect on people's lives as big ones.  A mother who teaches a child inventive ways of thinking, or a mother that encourages her daughter's desire to become a fireman, that's a small act of leadership.  A dad who lets his daughter quit the law, that's a small act of leadership.

Expressed another way, your generation of leaders will know that every one on this earth is born with the potential to lead.  And that is a deep and fundamental shift, a shift worth celebrating.  Every man and every woman on this earth is born to lead.  A leader's greatest obligation is to make possible an environment where people's minds and hearts can be inventive, brave, human and strong, where people can aspire to do useful and significant things, where people can aspire to change the world.

Carly Fiorina   CEO Hewlett-Packard, speaking at MIT  June 2000


Solidarity in discipline  

We, in the sin of this our brother, accuse and condemn our own sins, (and) we shall join repentance, tears and prayers with him and his, knowing that no flesh can be justified before God's presence if judgement proceed without mercy ... (To our brother we say)  We all here present join our sins to your sin;  we all repute and esteem your fall to be our own;  we accuse ourselves no less than you;  and we join our prayers with yours that we and you may obtain mercy, by the means of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jean Calvin  "Form of Church Discipline" 1571


Spirituality and religion in the workplace

Martin Rutte is a leading figure in the development of spirituality and spiritual values in the workplace.  He was interviewed with simple clarity by Bob Rosner for the human resources magazine Workforce:

Q:  Many in HR (Human Resources Management) are concerned about potential legal liability that could come from allowing religion into their businesses.  What would you say to address this concern?

A:  I do not agree with imposing a religious point of view, but at the same time we don't need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  I believe you can have an exploration, a deepening of the spiritual experience at work without having people become upset with someone trying to shove a particular point of view down their throat.  Nobody likes having points of view imposed, whether it's about religion or any other topic.

Some people access their spirituality through their religion.  Others meet their spiritual needs through alternative exploration.  Sometimes they see each other as being in different camps.  The "spiritual" people think religion is dogmatic, old-fashioned, more concerned with arcane rituals.  The religionists see the spiritualists as crystal lovers, as flaky.  What they both don't see is that they're both after and from the same place - the divine.

Many of us disconnect from religion because of childhood memories: "Religion did this and it shouldn't have," or "Religion didn't do this and it should have."  Go and be complete with your own religion.  Do what you need to do to heal your separation.  Be complete with it in a way that enlivens and enriches you and it.  And religions have to open their doors and their hearts to different needs and voices.  What good is it if you have a religious building but your pews are empty?

Martin Rutte   Workforce HR magazine

(Visit Martin's website at:


The capacity to change

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was interviewed by BeliefNet in April 2004 about his (new) book, "God's Dream":

What is God’s dream, and how was it imparted to you?

God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. In God’s family, there are no outsiders, no enemies. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist—all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognize our interdependence, we become fully human.

This dream can be found throughout the Bible and has been repeated by all of God's prophets right down to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.

Is it realistic to say there are no enemies when we are involved in a war?

God’s love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict or to any one religion. People are shocked when I say that George Bush and Saddam Hussein are brothers, that Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon are brothers, but God says, “All are my children.” It is shocking. It is radical. But it is true.

Aren’t some people simply beyond redemption?

We in South Africa had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and we had the most devastating revelations of ghastly atrocities. We could describe them as monstrous, even demonic. But even these torturers remained children of God, with a possibility of being able to change. After all, a thief on the cross was able to repent and Jesus promised that thief, "You will be with me in paradise." Jesus didn't say, “Look at what kind of life you have led up to this point.” All of us have the capacity to change, even to become saints.

Desmond Tutu   The whole interview is available at Beliefnet


The core of all ethics

The thing that keeps us from doing harm is the ability to see what it looks like from the other person's point of view.  Even today that remains the core of all ethics.

Jonathan Sacks Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, interviewed on Channel Four


The greatest offence   

"An offender can be punished.  But to punish and not to restore, that is the greatest of all offences ...  If a man takes unto himself God’s right to punish, then he must also take upon himself God’s promise to restore."

Alan Paton   "Too Late the Phalarope" pp 264-5


The highest expression of love   

If we love only those who love us, we are doing nothing extraordinary.   We do not need Christ to do that. A non-believer is quite capable of doing as much.  Do you want to follow Christ, and not look back?   Then are you going to make your way through life with a heart that is reconciled?   In any disagreement, what is the use of trying to find out who was wrong and who was right?  Suppose people distort your intentions?  If you are judged wrongly because of Christ, then forgive.  You will find that you are free, free beyond compare.  Forgive, and then forgive again.  That is the highest expression of loving.  There you make yours the final prayer of Jesus, "Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."

Brother Roger of Taiz´┐Ż   "No Greater Love" pp 22,19


The hurt wasn't intended

The challenge is to locate the impersonal part of the hurt when the rejections, mistreatments and insults happen to us.

The easiest way is to realize how common each painful experience is.  It is a fact of life that nothing that has happened to you is unique.  If you remind yourself that you are just one of two hundred people burglarised in your community, it is hard to take it as personally ...

The second way to uncover the impersonal dimension of hurt is to understand that most offences are committed without the intention of hurting anyone personally.  Marilyn's mother did not want to ruin her child's life.  Marilyn's mother was unable to love Marilyn because of a variety of factors.  She was in an empty marriage that she entered into at a young age to escape her abusive father.   Her husband moved regularly, which made making friends difficult.  She also suffered from arthritis, which caused her great pain.

Many of the offences we ache over were not intended to hurt us personally.  Some were, but they are rare.  To suggest there is an impersonal dimension to many of our offences is not to deny the pain of loss and neglect.   Marilyn needs to recognize what her mother did and did not do. 

Fred Luskin  "Forgive for Good" pp 16-18


The line between good and evil

It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.  This line shifts.  Inside us, it oscillates with the years.   Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn "The Gulag Archipelago" p 24


The morality of the death penalty

Author Scott Turow was invited to serve on Illinois' new commission examining the effectiveness of capital punishment, not only due to his fame for courtroom thrillers like "Presumed Innocent," but because the former prosecutor had successfully defended an innocent man who had spent 12 years on death row for the murder of Jeanine Nicarico. 

Turow's experience on the commission changed his mind against the death penalty, and resulted in his novel "Reversible Errors" and the non-fiction account, "Ultimate Punishment."  In a recent interview for Beliefnet by Paul O'Donnell, he discussed the urge to 'get' someone for a capital crime:

To an extraordinary extent we are still sheltered from the reality of what goes on.   Sitting in the back of a felony courtroom in Chicago, you hear stuff that blows your mind.  You've got routine drug deals that are to some extent explicable and understandable.  But the student who goes in to the nun who taught him and pours lye down her throat, or the father who takes his house keys and puts out his child's eyes—these are people who have been raised in hideous circumstances that have taught them no sense of human attachment who behave that way.  They don't have feelings for other human beings.  They can be cruel in ways that it's hard for you and me to imagine.

But my own estimate is that the prosecutors in the Nicarico case had the normal impulse of cops and prosecutors when they make a mistake.  They were anxious to respond to community pressure to find these horrible killers.  It's their job and they want to believe they can do it and do it well. What bothers me about what happened in DuPage County is that eventually it became a matter of political survival.  Political ambition becomes entwined with not telling the truth.

I think there is an inherent paradox in capital cases.  The death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst, but it's the sniper cases and the Nicarico cases that are most likely to go wrong.  Fear, revulsion and wrath all undermine our ability to deal with these cases rationally.  So you say, "I got these two who committed this murder and goddamnit I'm going to prove it."  And lo and behold, you end up with two innocent men spending 12 and a half years behind bars.   And they are hardly unique.

Full interview at:


The offender is our judge   

At his trial Jesus was convicted of the most serious offences – of blasphemy by the religious authorities, and of treason by the secular authority. He was declared by authority to be an offender. He experienced arrest, abuse, torture, and briefly imprisonment, before experiencing the ultimate penalty – death, by crucifixion. The judge in this story, in one sense, was Pilate. The way history will remember him probably doesn’t do the profession of being a judge much good in the general mind. His judgement and verdict were based not so much on seeking to establish truth and justice, as on expediency and convenience.  The religious authorities, equally, could not cope with a view of God which did not fit their own self-interest and prejudice, and they made their judgements accordingly. 

From a Christian perspective, God, in the form of Jesus, remains the judge in this story. The story represents a challenge to our human understanding of judges and judging. The story highlights the danger in any judicial process that compromise and prejudice can "crucify" the offender. In very important senses, the offender is our judge. And the way we treat offenders is a judgement on our society.

Chris Wood "The End of Punishment"

(Centre for Theology and Public Issues, Edinburgh)  p 75


The power to forgive   

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.   Whoever is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without first accepting the need, over and over again, to forgive those who inflict evil and injury upon us.  The wrongdoer may request forgiveness.  They may come to themselves, and like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, their heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness.  But only the injured neighbour, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act.  It means rather that the evil act no longer remains a barrier to the relationship. 

Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a new beginning.  It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt.  The words 'I will forgive you, but I'll never forget what you've done' never explain the real nature of forgiveness.  Certainly one can never forget, if that means totally erasing it from his mind.  But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship.

Likewise, we can never say, 'I will forgive you, but I won't have anything further to do with you.'  Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again.  Without this, no man can love his enemies.  The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.

Martin Luther King   "Strength to Love" p 48-9


The purpose of forgiveness    

The purpose of forgiveness is not simply to heal the guilt of the sinner but the purpose of all love: to come into communion.

Jon Sobrino   Latin America: Place of Sin and Place of Forgiveness,

Concilium 184, 1986


The 'righteous'

Luke reports that Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18) “to certain people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.” 

The Pharisee, the good man, takes the stage and strikes a pose.  With face uncovered, head held high and hands outspread, he utters his prayer of thanksgiving, the prayer of 'innocence itself.'  It sounds like an election speech.  He presents himself, righteous and good as he is, and waits for the applause.

If we want to understand the parable and experience its healing effect on ourselves, we must stop looking round elsewhere for these ‘certain people who trusted in themselves.’  We – you and I – are these people ourselves …

Ultimately it is not these individual people (in the parable) who are in question, but the vicious circle in which the one person becomes guilty because of the way he judges the other, and in which social and psychological death are disseminated through self-righteousness and the condemnation of others. 

(The Power of the Powerless pp 89-90, 96)


This man is forgiven   

If Christ Jesus shall have been pleased to come to (a sinner’s) door, and to have stood, and knocked, and entered, and supped, and brought his dish, and made himself that dish, and sealed a reconciliation to that sinner, in admitting him to that Table, to that Communion, let us forget the name of publican, the vices of any particular profession; and forget the name of sinner, the history of any man’s former life; and be glad to meet that man now in the arms, and to grow up with that man now in the bowels of Christ Jesus; since Christ doth not now begin to make that man his, but now declares to us, that he hath been his from all eternity.

John Donne  "Sermon April 30 1626" P&S VII, pp152-3


To love your neighbour as yourself   

Whatever a man may want, in cases of crime as in those of the highest virtue, ... the essence of his desire always consists in this: that he wants above all things to be able to exercise his will freely.   (To love one's neighbour as oneself means)  to wish for the existence of this free consent in another.  It is to transport oneself into him, it is to consent to affliction oneself.  It is to deny oneself, and in doing this one becomes capable under God of establishing someone else, by a creative affirmation.  One gives oneself in ransom for the other - a redemptive act.

Simone Weil   "Waiting on God" p 104


Two views of evil

Tom Shippey, Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature, Leeds University, has provided in JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century a most searching analysis of Tolkien's portrayal of the power of evil in The Lord of the Rings.  Shippey's is a great book, and hard to extract briefly.  Here is a small part of his conclusion about whether evil is, in Tolkien's writing and experience, a subjective 'effect' only present through people (the Boethian view), or is an objective thing or presence (the Manichaean or dualist view). 

The Ring in the book is both an 'echo chamber' of the bearer's worst aspects, amplifying them horribly, and a living, active manifestation of Sauron (the narrative's 'fallen angel').  It is one example of the way Tolkien generated a living mythology which convincingly underpins and clarifies our contemporary experiences of the world and of spiritual meaning - in Brian Sibley's phrase, "what if anything motivates and lies behind the ticking of the universe".

In The Lord of the Rings the contradiction (between the two views) drives much of the plot. It is expressed not only through the paradoxes of wraiths and shadows, but also through the Ring.  The Ring’s ambiguity is present almost the first time we see it, in ‘The Shadow of the Past’, when Gandalf tells Frodo, ‘Give me the ring for a moment’.  Frodo unfastens it from its chain and,

handed it slowly to the wizard. It felt suddenly very heavy, as if either it or Frodo himself was in some way reluctant for Gandalf to touch it.

Either it or Frodo.  It may not seem very important to know which of these alternative explanations is true, but the difference is the difference between the world-views I have labelled above as ‘Boethian’ and ‘Manichaean’ ...

All this builds up to the question of what makes Frodo fail at the last hurdle?   He reaches the Sammath Naur, leaving Sam behind to deal with Gollum, and when Sam follows him in, he finds that even the phial of Galadriel is no longer any use to him.   In this place, ‘the heart of the realm of Sauron ... all other powers were here subdued’.  At that moment, standing on the very edge of the Crack of Doom, Frodo gives up. His words are:

‘I have come ... But I do not choose now to do what I came to do.  I will not do this deed.  The Ring is mine.’

With that he puts it on for the sixth and final time.  It is a vital question to know whether Frodo does this because he has been made to, or whether he has succumbed to inner temptation. What he says suggests the latter, for he appears to be claiming responsibility very firmly: ‘I will not ... the Ring is mine.’ Against that, there has been the increasing sense of reaching a centre of power, where all other powers are ‘subdued’. If that is the case, Frodo could no more help himself than if he had been swept away by a river, or buried in a landslide.  It is also interesting that Frodo does not say, ‘I choose not to do’, but ‘I do not choose to do’.  Maybe (and Tolkien was a professor of language) the choice of words is absolutely accurate. Frodo does not choose; the choice is made for him ...

Has he given in to temptation?  Or just been overpowered by evil?  If one puts the questions like that, there is a surprising and ominous echo to them, which suggests that this whole debate between ‘Boethian’ and Manichaean’ views, far from being one between orthodoxy and heresy, is at the absolute heart of the Christian religion itself.  The Lord’s Prayer, which in Tolkien’s day everyone knew, and which most English-speakers know even yet, contains seven clauses or requests, and of these the sixth and seventh are:

Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

Are these variants of each other, saying the same thing?  Or (much more likely) do they have different but complementary intentions, the first asking God to keep us safe from ourselves (the Boethian source of sin), the second asking for protection from outside (the source of evil in a Manichaean universe)?  If the latter is the case, then Tolkien’s double or ambiguous view of evil is not a flirtation with heresy after all, but expresses a truth about the nature of the universe denied to the philosopher Boethius, and possibly even to the rationalist C S Lewis.

There is no doubt that the Lord’s Prayer was in Tolkien’s mind as he wrote the Sammath Naur scene, for he said as much in a private letter to David Masson, with whom he had been discussing the criticisms made of him, as mentioned above.  Tolkien did not comment on the Prayer’s apparent tautology, nor on the ambiguity of his own presentation of evil throughout, but they are of a piece.

One can never tell for sure, in The Lord of the Rings, whether the danger of the Ring comes from inside, and is sinful, or from outside, and is merely hostile.  And one has to say that this is one of the work’s great strengths.  We all recognize, in our better moments at least, that much harm comes from our own imperfections, sometimes terribly magnified, like traffic deaths from haste and aggression and reluctance to leave the party too soon: those are temptations.  At the same time there are other disasters for which one feels no responsibility at all, like (as Tolkien was writing) bombs and gas-chambers.  They may in fact all be connected, as Boethius insisted: no human being can ever see enough to tell.  But our experience does not feel like that.  It is a mistake just to blame everything on evil forces ‘out there’, the habit of xenophobes and popular journalists; just as much a mistake to luxuriate in self-analysis, the great skill of Tolkien’s contemporaries, the cosseted upper-class writers of the ‘modernist’ movement.

Tom Shippey  "JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century" pp 135, 140-142


Two types of people   

People divide into two types: not the 'guilty' and the 'righteous' as many think, but rather two different types of guilty people.  There are guilty people who acknowledge their wrongs, and guilty ones who do not ... In dealing with the woman taken in adultery (John 8), Jesus replaces the two assumed categories, 'righteous' and 'guilty', with two different categories: sinners who admit and sinners who deny.  The woman caught in adultery helplessly admitted her guilt.  Far more problematic were people like the Pharisees who denied or repressed guilt ... Cloaking my sins under a robe of respectability, I seldom if ever let myself get caught in a blatant, public indiscretion.  Yet if I understand this story of Jesus correctly, the sinful woman is the one nearest the kingdom of God.

Philip Yancey  "What's so amazing about Grace?" pp 181-2


Vengeance and self-righteousness

Vengeance and self-righteousness are making - not so much a comeback because they’ve always been there - but even in a ‘Christian’ society like the United States, if I speak to Christian communities and talk about the importance of forgiveness and love, people often look balked and furious, because what’s the point of being religious if you can’t despise or feel better than other people!  I sometimes think that if some of the Christians I know got to heaven and found everybody there, they’d be furious, because heaven wouldn’t be heaven if there wasn’t someone excluded from God’s forgiveness and frying down below.

Karen Armstrong   "On being wrong" (BBC Radio 4 - Michael Rosen)


Victims who purchase compassion 

(In today’s society) if any person can claim the status of a victim, then that person has recourse to people’s attention regardless of how numb they are.  As a result, the very discourse of ‘victimisation’ has become a commodity by which people attempt to purchase compassion.  The modern American cogito might be better phrased, ‘I am a victim; therefore I am.’  Whoever can claim the status if victim with greater authority wins, because that status projects an image of innocence over against which all others are somehow guilty.

Gregory Jones   "Embodying forgiveness" pp 45-6


We liars who pray "Forgive us our debts ..."

I suppose that the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6.12) - or "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" - has made liars out of more people than any document in human history ... 

This petition is both a plea for forgiveness and a claim that we have already forgiven those who have hurt us.  In an equivalent section, Luke 11.4, Jesus says, "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us."  There it is in the present tense, claiming that we are forgiving everyone ... I have a suspicion that there are many who do need this teaching - and some who need it desperately.

T R Kendall   "Total Forgiveness" p 66-7


What love is for   

The crucial relationship between vision and nurture has been central to our experience of community. With only vision, a community soon loses any real quality of love. With only nurture, the community forgets what its love is for.

Jim Wallis   "Call to Conversion" p 128


When abuse distorts forgiveness   

In fairness to the critics of forgiveness, it is important to emphasise that forgiveness can be so distorted as to be part of the problem.  Where there is cyclic abuse in a relationship, for example, forgiveness is usually a major contributing factor.  The spouse forgives and then they go through the honeymoon stage and then there's the brooding and accumulation of rage and then there's the violence and then the placating ("I'm so sorry and it'll never happen again") and then more forgiveness.  In this cycle, forgiveness is the heart of the pathology.  The same kind of cycle is common in any relationship which is affected by addiction.  So, it's understandable that people would reject this kind of forgiveness - it is part of the problem.

David Augsburger   in "Steps" ( National Association for Christian Recovery)


You need to hear them say sorry

The Anglican bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, has spoken of a need for reconciliation between the parents of James Bulger, who was murdered in the city eight years ago, and his killers.  His statement followed the release of James Bulger’s killers, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, now aged 18.  They have been given new identities, and are being placed separately in “halfway houses” under supervision.

Bishop Jones said that, “if the circumstances were right”, a meeting would help the parents, Denise Fergus and Ralph Bulger, to move forward.  He said that the parents’ anger was understandable, and described the killers’ release “as salt being poured on an open wound”.  But he went on to say: “In order to forgive someone who has hurt you badly, you need to see and hear them say sorry.  It would be a very difficult meeting, but, in the right circumstances, it could help Denise and Ralph to move forward.”

He said that those in authority “are convinced they are sorry and have changed, and are no longer a threat.  We don’t have the evidence to examine, and have to take it on trust.”

(Church of England's) Church Times, June 2001


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