Thoughts on Forgiveness

Thoughts on Forgiveness

Introduction: The following was taken from Advocate Web. http://www.advocateweb.org

Sometimes (often?) survivors of exploitation and sexual abuse are pressured to forgive, being told that the only way they will find healing is to forgive their abuser. Amazingly, victims are sometimes treated as if they are the ones who are truly the ones in the wrong if they do not quickly pronounce forgiveness of their abuser. This appears to be especially true in some faith communities. Such insensitivity to the tremendously painful issues that survivors often face, is hardly showing love and compassion, particularly in light of the fact that victims are sometimes shunned and alienated from their own faith communities at times when they need support and understanding the most. While rushing in to pronounce "forgiveness" on the accused, churches sadly neglect the abused. What a strange act of "love and compassion" it is.

In an article entitled "Questions about Forgiveness" (Circuit Rider, March '97) by Columbia Theological Seminary Professor John Patton, the author shares some worthwhile insights. He sees this process of forgiveness as something that we discover has "happened" in our lives over time, rather than being forced or just a decision we make. Perhaps forgiveness is a by-product of healing, rather than being the source of healing. Patton's view makes a lot of sense. He states: "Discovering forgiveness doesn't mean living happily ever after. As a pastoral counselor, I continue to explore these issues, but both my pastoral experience and my theological reflection convince me that human forgiveness is not something done, a behavior. It is something that happens as a sign of positive self-esteem when the injured person is no longer building his or her identity around something that happened in the past. The injury is not all of who one is but just a part, a part of life that has at least started to move out of the center of the frame."

Patton reminds us of a fact that is often lost in theological writing on forgiveness and reconciliation: "...neither forgiveness nor reconciliation is perfect. The scars of the abuse or injury remain. Those involved do not 'live happily ever after.' The discovery of forgiveness most often means living with and going on."

So, while many who have been abused can find the word "forgiveness" to be a triggering word, a source of anxiety and stress, there may be a different way of looking at this. So many people can trivialize the process of forgiveness. They cheapen or devalue the meaning of the word. We cannot truly understand what someone else has been through and we can do more harm than good in trying to pressure others to forgive. If and how you work through issues of forgiveness is up to you, and no other person. Your healing process is yours.

Rather than focusing on forgiving in order to heal, perhaps it is the other way around. The key message of hope is that, in time, we can discover we have healed enough to move on, and thoughts about the abuse we have experienced will "move out of the center of the frame" and life will go on. It will always be a part of our life, but it doesn't have to define who we are. There is hope! We can't force it. We just discover we have moved on, when it's time. Maybe at some point, we will discover we have moved closer to forgiving - maybe.

Kevin Gourley,
President and Founder, AdvocateWeb