Cathedral News, September 17, 2017


Forgiveness is a difficult subject, not from the perspective of the definition, but from the practical application. We all know what it is to forgive; it is letting go of the hurt and blame when we are wronged by another. How, though, is that accomplished? How do I forgive a friend or a family member for deep wounds that may have been caused by words or actions?

First, let’s separate forgiveness from forgetfulness. They are not the same thing. I can forgive another person without necessarily forgetting the wrong that was done. This reality, in fact, is part of the reason why Jesus points to the essentially endless need for forgiveness: “seventy times seven,” in the words of today’s Gospel lesson. As human beings, we do remember things long after they have happened, and the danger in this is that, when we remember, the hurt we felt at the time is re-opened. When that happens, we must remember not only the injury but also the forgiveness that we offered for it at the time. Memories persist, and forgiveness can be recalled to put them in their proper perspective.

Second, forgiveness doesn’t rely upon the injuring party asking for forgiveness. It certainly makes the relationship stronger, and the forgiveness easier, if that happens. “I’m sorry,” and “Please forgive me” are powerful words, and we all know the healing that can begin with simple phrases like these. Still, they are not required for forgiveness to be offered. Forgiveness is not a quid pro quo; it isn’t necessary to receive something in order to forgive. The person who has wronged you can be completely unrepentant, and you can still forgive that person his misdeed. Forgiveness, ultimately, is about letting go of that anger and resentment that, if allowed to remain in your heart and mind, acts like a slow poison, eating away at you from within.

Third, it is true that the person hardest to forgive is ourselves. That is not always the case, of course, but there are those things in our lives for which we have a terribly difficult time forgiving ourselves. And, as I noted above, if we aren’t able to forgive ourselves for the things we have done, then those actions and words remain in our hearts and are terribly corrosive, damaging our relationships with others and with God. Make a special effort to consider the things you have done that you regret. They are done, and they are in the past. Let them go; allow yourself to be forgiven for them. Don’t let them be a weight and a shadow upon your life anymore. Let them go, and you will feel God’s love, and the love of others, more fully.

Fourth, part of the reason it is so hard to forgive ourselves, I believe, is that we don’t really believe in God’s forgiveness. People have an abiding tendency to see God as angry, wrathful and vindictive, keeping score somehow on our actions and intents. I think that’s rubbish. We have free will, which means we can choose to follow God, or not. We can attune ourselves to the patterns of behaviour and thought that will draw us closer into relationship with God, or we can choose to follow those patterns that diminish that relationship; the choices are ours. Regardless of our actions, God is always ready to be in relationship with us. God is love and is constantly open to our invitation to him to be part of our lives. There is no quid pro quo to that love and forgiveness; they are simply a matter of our choice and invitation. That reality is difficult for us to fathom, because we project our human relationships on to our relationship with God. We know the anger we feel when someone wrongs us, and so we imagine God feels similar emotion. We experience the desire for retribution, and we are fully aware of the accounts ledger we keep in our mind about the things people have done to us, and so imagine that God behaves in a similar fashion. He doesn’t.

Finally, forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation. Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation to occur, but they are not the same thing. Forgiveness can be given without the desire or request from the other party. Reconciliation depends upon both the injured party, and the one having committed the injury, coming together, choosing to find a way to be in relationship with each other. Forgiveness might be the beginning of that process, or not, but at some point along the way it is necessary if true reconciliation is to be found.

God desires both for us. He wants us to be reconciled to his presence in our lives and to be open to the love he has to offer. Forgiveness is the first step. We are forgiven by God. We, likewise, are called upon to forgive those who have wronged us…and to forgive ourselves. As we do so, we will experience the joy and fulfillment that come with choices that nurture relationships, human and divine.

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