Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Forgiveness is Not...

”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 one’s 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 they’re beginners. We excuse eight-year-old boys for making bodily noises because they’re eight-year-old boys.

People sometimes say that “to understand all is to forgive all,” but in a sense that’s 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t mean I h