Sunday, March 30, 2008

The ABC's of Forgiving Others (or Not)

AnnMarie Kneebone raises some really interesting issues with regards to sin and forgiveness within the Christian faith tradition in her post "Forgive and Retain". It's based on a passage in the Bible's book of John where Jesus says to his followers,

"Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

The question regarding when, if ever, is it appropriate for us to retain the transgressions of others is a thought-provoking issue. Perhaps the motives, attitude, and/or comprehension level of the transgressor plays a role in how we can come to a decision in individual cases.

There are those who steal because they are starved and desperate. There are others who steal because they are covetous and impatient to have that which they could, but will not, work for. I think that it would be easier to make a case for retaining that person's transgression than it would be with regards to the person who was stealing because their body had basically gone into survival mode.

With regards to attitude, I guess we could use two cases where people who committed vehicular homicide while driving drunk as an example. Let's say that between their conviction and when they're to be sentenced, one of the murderers went out and made a serious effort to apologize to the victim's family and started speaking to student groups about the consequences of drinking and driving. The other convicted murderer does none of these things and even gets pulled over for driving drunk again. I don't think that God expects us to forgive the second murderer even if that person admits to what they've done because they still haven't even shown any proof that they are willing to turn away from doing the same thing that has already killed one innocent person.

I think the last factor I mentioned is probably the hardest to make use of. Let's say a 30 year old of average intelligence shoots and kills a random stranger and then tells the police that they did it purposely. Let's also say a ten year old child with average intelligence does the exact same thing. Should we forgive or retain the child's wrongdoing? I kind of feel like maybe we should (or, at least, could) forgive the child even if they haven't expressed any remorse because I don't believe that someone that age could really understand the full implications of their actions. With regards to the adult, well, I think it's a lot more likely that they understood just what it means to take the life of another person but chose to murder anyway. Their ability to fully comprehend what they were doing means I'm not going to be as willing to forgive them before they show remorse.

Does any of what I wrote make sense to you? It's a journey, I think. Ideally, I could forgive much more freely than I do now. It's something I need to work on, that's for sure.


Salspua said...

To me, forgiveness is the ultimate act of power and is unrelated to the motivations/circumstances of the perpetrator.

My upbringing did not include the Bible directly, but one line comes to mind, which I paraphrase : Forgive them, for they know not what they do.

I think anyone who commits a crime against another cannot understand what it is that they are actually doing. Not spiritually. Not energetically. Regardless of my estimation of what that person understands. Whether he/she expresses remorse or takes no personal response-ability for his/her action.

I call forgiveness an ultimate act of power because when I forgive, I reclaim my power that is stuck in the event or person. It doesn't mean the act was "ok", but no longer holds a part of my spirit. The act of forgiveness also has the energetic impact of freeing the perpetrator, too. After my forgiveness experience this summer, I came home and within 2 weeks, two exes who had "hurt me" found me, reconnected, and apologized. Wow. I felt nothing but gratitude at the sight of them. Made us both cry happy tears. When I forgave my father (who's been dead for 5 years) for his acts of ignorance, my mother then began speaking differently about him. I had told her nothing of my forgiveness. (She does not understand my spirit/energy world.) It is absolutely amazing!

Blessings to you on your path. Much love~

Salspua said...

Today I had a moment to read AnnMarie Kneebone's post, and some more thoughts came to me.

I think it is impossible to forgive and retain, as forgiveness is a release. One can forgive and hold a party responsible perhaps, which is not the same as retention to me.

Framimg/paradigm is very important, and I think it gets confusing/inappropriate to mix 'n' match them. AMK uses the example of the circumstance in which one person is in a relationship with an abusive partner. I agree just telling the abused to "forgive" is like telling her/him to "dismiss" or "endure" the abuse, which is very different from the other kind of forgiveness - the release that is of "forgive them, for they know not what they do." The personal belief system which creates the opportunity for an abusive relationship does not have room in it yet for the release forgiveness. It exists in another paradigm.

I don't know how this fits into larger expressions of abuse/oppression, but I think somewhere, somehow it does. It's a process to shift from one framing, one paradigm view, to another.

From AnnMarie's post:
"The capitalist system keeping food from poor people because "if they were hungry enough they'd get a job" is a violent act that does not warrant forgiveness. The people who organize these actions do not warrant forgiveness."

The ranking of worthiness is part of the range of effects of the belief "hierarchy," as is capitalism. These things go hand in hand. I agree that to deny anyone food is an act of violence. It is not ok by any stretch of any imagination. Those who deny food do not know what they are doing. They are obeying their programming in hierarchy and judgment, as the vast majority of humans do. To engage in retention of the sin is to contribute to its continuation. (What we resist persists.) I think we can work to feed those who are hungry, work on finding that same judgment/hierarchy in ourselves an release it, and forgive others' ignorances. Perhaps forgiving others for our own sins is that release. (i.e. Forgiving another's judgment helps me release the judgment within myself.)

Back to work. *grind grind grind*

Daisy said...

Did you know it was the Feast of Divine Mercy when you posted this, or was it one of those very cool spooky-spiritual coincidences?

If the former, neat!

If the latter, VERY impressive, Bintsies. :)

bint alshamsa said...


no, I didn't know. Sometimes I think the universe can give off so much energy that we feel it even when we don't know why we're feeling it. How awesome is that? I'm going to have to look up the history of this feast day now. I think the Creator is trying to tell me something.

Anonymous said...

May I share with you how the Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox churches also, interpret this passage from the Gospel of John? As they see it, it's not addressed to all Christians in general, but specifically to the apostles and their successors, bishops and priests. It's seen as one of the biblical bases for the sacraments of Holy Orders (priesthood) and Penance/Reconciliation (confession). The "forgiveness" referred to is specifically absolution, the washing away of guilt by God's grace. So what does "retained" mean? Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe it means that a priest cannot give absolution to a penitent who is not truly repentant, that is, sorry for a sin he/she has confessed. The usual way to judge this is when the penitent clearly intends to do the same sin in the future, or would do it again if he had it to do over. So, Jesus in this passage is not implying that you and I are permitted to refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us.

Jacqueline Y.