Friday, May 16, 2014


When I first saw this video on facebook, my initial reaction was a slight feeling of discomfort. I don't usually think in terms of guilt and forgiveness, and the concept has become somewhat alien to me. Next came the realization that I have no idea what christians actually mean when they talk about "forgiveness".

I know the term appears in the bible, I know the usual dictums associated with it -- "forgive 70 x 7 times" etc. -- but I am not aware of any actual definition. I'm fairly certain that I have never heard one at school (it was a catholic school), or at the christian communities of my youth.

Wouldn't you suppose that a faith community that has been in business for 2000 years, would have come up with some useful definition of one of their most dear, most basic terms, somewhere around the year 100 or so? Wouldn't you think that his was the first thing they tell you, when they're approaching you on the street?

Man, where the heck are those missionaries, every time I actually have a serious question to ask?

The other issue is that I'm not really certain I can approve of the concept in general, even when we accept that there just is no clear-cut definition. Those folks holding up those signs, protesting in a somewhat obtrusive manner that they will forgive those who trespassed against them? Yeah sure, I respect their motives. Been there, done that.  Now it's time to follow through with your claims. For the rest of your lives. Honestly, I wish you the best... but I have my doubts.

And that's not meant to be a strike against those people there in that video. It's meant to be a skeptical note about the whole concept.

Forgiveness presupposes guilt. It builds on the concept that someone wronged you, and instead of lashing back, you... well, what? You don't just forget what has happened. Maybe you humbly accept that you might have done the same destructive thing under the same circumstances. But... no, that's not quite it. Maybe it means to accept that the other person did something wrong, stupid, and destructive, and just move on. No. Not quite right, again.

What the heck IS forgiveness?

All I can really say is that it sounds to me a lot like you're putting yourself on a pedestal. Like you're being a bit BETTER than that other person. Like you're the hero of your own victimhood.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but... it seems to me as if forgiveness were a self-refuting concept. Once you have forgiven, you should be able to just move on. But as long as you feel that there is something to forgive, you can never hope to do that. You'll be forever bound to that incidence by your need to be better.

In my experience, I have found that I am only free of the pain of someone wronging me once I have realized that

  1. I survived it.
  2. The damage is tolerable, after all.
  3. It won't happen again.
  4. I might probably act in the same way under the same circumstances, or
  5. At least I can understand their motives in some way.

In other words, it's about self-preservation first, and empathy second.

That means that there are some things that I will probably never "forgive", such as if someone killed my girlfriend, and that there are some things that I might choose to tolerate, rather than "forgive".

Overall, I think that this is a more healthy and balanced approach than the demand that a person be able to "forgive everything", be it with our without god's help. If not for any other reason, simply because it encompasses a larger spectrum of possible ways to deal with things.