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Forgiveness-The Road Less Taken

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  • June 5, 2003 /
  • by Stonebriar Counseling Associates /
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For many people forgiveness is one of the hardest steps of all in their progress toward love and acceptance. Yet it is essential. For as long as we are unable to forgive, we keep ourselves chained to an unforgiving spirit. We give them rent-free space in our minds, emotional shackles on our hearts, and the right to torment us in the small hours of the night. In order to clearly understand the process of forgiveness it is important to articulate a clear definition. First What forgiveness is not:1.Forgetting/DenialTime passing or ignoring the effects of the wrongdoing so that permission is granted for the memory to be dislodged from any and all recollection. 2. ExcusingBelieving that nothing bad happened. “It was only this one time. It won’t happen again. The person did this because…it wasn’t really their responsibility.” Once blame is attributed to one’s culture, genetics, family upbringing, etc., extenuating circumstances become the modus operandi leaving little or no room for personal responsibility of their choice. 3. Seeking Justice or Compensation”She/he deserves to know they have wronged me.””Forgiving” becomes a sense of moral superiority.Forgiveness is not a quid pro quo deal–it doesn’t demand compensation first.4. Forgiving For Your Own SakeIn her book Forgiveness: A Bold Choice for a Peaceful Heart. Robin Casarjian, a secularpsychotherapist, advocates forgiveness as a means of helping people let go of old anger and resentment. The idea sounds good. But how is she defining forgiveness? In an interview she stated, “So often when people think about forgiveness they think about what it’s going to do for someone else. . . What they don’t realize is that forgiveness is really an act of self-interest. We’re doing ourselves a favor because we become free to have a more peaceful life–we free ourselves from being emotional victims of others” (New Age Journal, Sept/Oct 1993, p.78). There are many who long for peace by adopting this unconditional approach to forgiveness. Forgiving for your own sake does relieve feelings of rage and bitterness. It does allow us to release ourselves from the bitter emotions of revenge. It does allow us to treat those who have harmed us in a manner that seems Christ-like. But on closer inspection it is a Trojan horse that threatens to undermine the loving forgiveness taught in the Bible. The danger is that it changes forgiveness from an expression of love to a self-centered act of self-protection. What forgiveness is:Throughout the Bible, forgiveness carries the idea of “release,” “sending away,” or “letting go.” The Greek word often translated “forgiveness” was used to indicate release from an office, marriage, obligation, debt, or punishment. The idea of a debt or something owed is inherent to the concept of forgiveness. In biblical terms, therefore, forgiveness is the loving, voluntary cancellation of a debt. Morally, it is a response to an injustice (a moral wrong).It is a merciful restraint from pursuing resentment or revenge. So that paradoxically, it is the foregoing of resentment or revenge when the wrongdoer’s actions deserve it and giving the gifts of mercy, generosity and love when the wrongdoer does not deserve them.

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