Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as
when it foregoes revenge,
and dares to forgive an injury.
Whenever the subject of forgiving others is brought up among a group of people, very often an intense and emotional discussion will soon follow. Many questions arise defending ones position with reasons as to why not to forgive. We will look at some of these dynamics this week, but first to help us understand forgiveness as a whole, it will prove advantageous for us to understand what forgiveness is not. Lewis Smedes and John Ortberg offer some helpful parameters for defining what forgiveness is not.
What is it that we do, exactly, when we forgive? Lewis Smedes, who is the closet I know to an expert on forgiving, says we must start by understanding what forgiveness is not and then look at the three stages that are part of what forgiving is.
First, forgiving is not the same thing as excusing. Excusing is what we do when we consider extenuating circumstances for our behavior. We excuse expectant fathers for driving fast because they are taxiing a woman in labor. We excuse clumsy skiers for bumping into us when we find out theyre beginners. We excuse eight-year-old boys for making bodily noises because theyre eight-year-old boys.
People sometimes say that to understand all is to forgive all, but in a sense thats exactly wrong. Forgiveness is what is required precisely when there is no good rationale to explain why someone did what they did. Forgiving does not mean tolerating bad behavior or pretending that what someone did was not so bad. As Smedes says, excusing is an end run around the crisis of forgiving. When an action is excusable, it doesnt require forgiveness.
Forgiving is not forgetting. All that forgetting requires is a really bad memory. I forget where I parked my car or put my keys. This doesnt mean I h