Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Forgiveness

A month or so ago Greg Smith had a very thoughtful post on forgiveness:
Even more insidious is the invocation of these doctrines [of forgiving the sinner] by the abuser or sinner. They urge the victim of their evil acts to “get over it,” “move on,” and so forth. Such efforts ring rather hollow—they represent nothing but the evil-doer’s desire to be absolved. The perpetrator does not want to be called to account (or, at the least, wants to do so once in a superficial way and be done with it). He or she certainly does not want to suffer the consequences of the sin—they do not want to be confronted with the on-going pain they have caused. They often hope to minimize what they have done, argue that it is “all in the past” and the relationship simply needs to “move on.” They avoid, in essence, the making of amends and providing restitution.

This is a cheat. Restitution is key to repentance, and the process is stalled until efforts are made. And, no restitution can really be contemplated or even begun until the sinner and victim have “counted the cost.” Victimizers are understandably keen to avoid this painful, often drawn-out process. It takes time, new “hidden” costs are forever appearing from serious sin, and the perpetrator finds to his dismay or distaste that his own discomfort goes on and on, just as the victim’s suffering does. And, it may be that true restitution would mean the loss of gains—in power, material resources, prestige, self-image—which prompted the original sin. True restitution means the loss of any ill-gotten gains and then some: small wonder that wrong-doers want to invoke forgiveness, because it means that all debts are settled. There is no need or expectation that we need even try to return to the status quo ante. To even bring the matter up is gauche, “unchristian.”

I agree with what he says and would like to add to his thoughts.

While God says that we need to forgive others, he does not specify a time period in which this must be done, nor does he say that we should specify a time period in which this should be accomplished. It seems to me that at a certain point in time, we will find our spiritual progress blocked if we do not forgive. It seems, however, both wicked and evil to demand, for example, an abuse victim to forgive her abuser while the abuse is on-going. Even once the abuse stops, it might take considerable time for the victim to reach the point of forgiveness.

While forgiveness can occur without the guilty party repenting, it seems pointless to expect the victim to forgive when the perpetrator has not repented. It seems especially wicked for the perpetrator to expect the victim to forgive the perpetrator for crimes the perpetrator has not repented of. Forgiveness is not a substitute for repentance.