Tuesday, July 13, 2010

There are a few threads hanging from past discussions

Three to be precise.

The first has to do with what I have called "psychological atonement" which is a misnomer as there is no atonement involved at all. What there is is people urging us to forgive because it's good for us to do so. And the thing that makes this so compelling is that it is unquestionably true in some way. What exactly that way is is the question.

First, though, what is wrong with this? Well, I think it is that it focuses on the feelings and not the facts. It is not good for me to go through my life feeling aggrieved and so forgiving will help me get over that. But our feelings have to have, to borrow from Eliot, an "objective correlative".

If you've ever had someone tell you that they "forgive" you for something you believed to be entirely justified on your part you will know what I mean. It matters that there is actual evidence of a wrong beyond my feelings.

The second thing I think we need to be clear about is what forgiveness actually means. One thing that Rick Warren got right (yes, that Rick Warren) is that forgiving someone doesn't mean you have to trust them again. If you lend money and I can't repay it and come and ask you to forgive me, you should forgive me. You do not have to ever lend me money again.

To put it another way, forgiving me does not oblige anyone to enter into a relationship with me. Mike may forgive his girlfriend Alex for her cheating on him but he is not obliged to continue his relationship with her. There is nothing contradictory about him saying, "Yes, I forgive you and by the way, I'm leaving you."

Finally, while we can and should forgive people who do not ask for forgiveness our forgiving is only part of the equation.  The obvious example here is, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." But that forgiveness depends on our recognizing what we did, understanding it and asking forgiveness. Jesus died for our sins but that only makes a difference if we accept that he did.

Other hanging threads tomorrow.


  1. I agree with you, what you're saying is essentially what I meant when I said that forgiving someone does not mean that they should not be held accountable, or that one should continue a relationship with them of whatever sort. Forgiveness is for the benefit of the one doing the forgiving, not the one being forgiven. Forgiveness does not imply that you should again trust the person who wronged you.

    As far as Jesus goes, I don't think that his asking God to forgive them for they know not what they do is dependent on our recognizing what we did, that would be a contradiction. His beneficence is because we know not what we do.

  2. You're right about Jesus asking his Father to forgive his persecutors. My attempt at explaining it above cannot be right.

    I wonder if the point of Jesus forgiving us is something like "Okay, you have been forgiven, now what kind of relationship with me do you want?"

  3. Yes, I think that's on the right track. I could be wrong but I think Calvin or Luther said something like that.

  4. This was posted on one of the other sites. This is what my priest has been saying all along.

    Self-Esteem Starts With Self-Compassion


    When faced with hardship and failure, people fall roughly into two groups: those who "roll with life’s punches, facing failures and problems with grace," and those who "dwell on calamities, criticize themselves and exaggerate problems."