I was made aware of a fairly profound article today on the subject of forgiveness. What make this article scintillating is it is taking a very “outlaw” position that runs directly counter to our cultural assumptions surrounding the topic of forgiveness: what it is, who should give it, who deserves it.
Her take is that there is a coercion of forgiveness present in our culture that is in a sense just worthless cheap grace. She examines the rise of those cultural assumptions and exposes the underlying flaws in them. Then, she talks about some of the ways that people respond when she shares her ideas, and in the process gives a lot to think about.
Constance, I am posting this because in many ways it mirrors my own thinking on this topic. I think I differ just a bit, but that is due to axiomatic beginnings underlying my position, rather than any disagreement with the substance of what she writes. But I would like to take the occasion of her thoughtful and provoking article to codify some of my own thinking on the subject.
First of all, the concept of forgiveness and what it is has been trashed thoroughly over the years and passing styles and fashions of thought and belief. It has also been forced down our throat in such a way that it literally devalues the person being asked to forgive…all in the name of setting them free. When a person can do the most heinous act, commit egregious violation and abuse, and then turn around and demand to be forgiven by the one they have wounded it is akin to giving them a free pass to another form of rape!
No…forgiveness is nothing that can ever be demanded! No one has the right to be forgiven. Get that! No one has the right to be forgiven!
Anything you have a right to is in the field of Justice. Anything you have no rights to but deeply desire is in the field of Mercy. Any attempt to grasp which is which and when to give either or both is in the field of Humility.
Look familiar? I thought so.
So…forgiveness. Basically this is the decision and declaration by a person who has been violated in any way shape or form that they willingly choose to relinquish their right for justice and their right to be repaid what was taken from them and restored to a place of integration and wholeness. There are any number of violations and any number of redresses for them…and there are some that literally cannot ever be repaid. In our reality you always…and I mean that…you always have a right to be repaid when you are wronged.
You need to understand that if you choose to forgive (which means simply saying “you don’t owe me anything, now or ever”), you are intentioning to forgo any claim to redress and restitution. You need to know in your heart why you are choosing this option. You need to know that you will likely hurt and ache for a long long time, even if you forgive and usually especially if you forgive. Forgiveness is a sacrifice, and sacrifice always…always involves suffering.
Do you see how this is something that cannot (literally) be coerced from you? Because if you are guilted into it, or coerced into it then no matter what you have mouthed, you have not forgiven (and I am not assuming that as a value here, just stating what is and isn’t). You have granted another the opportunity to “get away with something”, and this is horrible for them!! Oh yeah. You think it is bad if you confront someone, that it might cause hard feelings? Think about the condition that results in letting someone get away with something, which further emboldens them, lets them sink deeper into their places of being violators…
What is crucial here is to understand the core, the absolute essence of what you do and why you do it when you forgive. That is a journey only you can make. There are sources to consult that will help guide you…there are powers that will assist you should you decide that the sacrifice of forgiveness is one that you choose to make…but it is only genuine if you walk that lonesome valley every last inch yourself, right there in the shadow of death, and then emerge on your own terms.
I want to share with you my own position on this topic. Of course you can expect that as best as I have been able to figure out, I have sought to base my thinking on the life and example of Jesus, Who is God Incarnate to me, and thus as an example is an easily seen picture of the Creator’s desire for the ways in which we “do relationship”…and also on the further writings in the New Testament which I believe to have been inspired in the heart of the author by Lady Grace, and then written out and set in counter-balance with other writings so that there is a dynamic tension which would always drive us to the Person of God and keep us from the horror of a behavioural code which would doom us all.
I think there are 2 very important sub-categories to the general act called “forgiveness”
The first one I call “Universal Forgiveness”.
What this refers to is the state of being that all humans are currently in due to the Crucifixion that hangs in the very center of the Universe and
penetrates/intersects/pierces every reality and every time and every culture and every experience.
In this Highly Exalted and Ultimate Act, all things have been set up for the opportunity to find wholeness once again…the chance to be made brand new! Not just a “re-run” or a do-over”, but the chance to actually become something you never were before!
This state of forgiveness has nothing to do with any decision that anyone makes but The One who was crucified. Makes sense, it is consistent with what I had said earlier about the essence of forgiveness. If you never know about it, it is still done, and you are still poised for the full freedom that its embrace entails. If you know all about it, but reject it as unnecessary, it changes nothing about it. And, if you fully embrace it and receive, it still changes nothing!
It simply changed the climate once for all in the entire Universe! His words “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do”…they echo into all of our dark and ignorant, benighted nooks and crannies! But those words themselves have nothing to do with the fate of a violator in and of themselves! They are not a free pass, a get out of jail free card.
There remains the question: if indeed this Action IS, then there are results assumed, demands implied, or consequences ready to unfold depending on anyone’s choice of what to do about this deed, if anything…and that is where we get to the second sub-category, and it is in this category that I think the author of this article has a powerful and cogent offering to us.
The second category is what I call “Personal Forgiveness”.
Think of Scrooge McDuck’s treasure vault, okay? All the gold, the jewels, the dollar bills, the wealth just spewing out everywhere. Now think of the key to that door being available…all you have to do is go ask the authority who watches over the vault if they would give you the key. Whether or not you do that is your choice…but here is what happens…ask not and you need to go round up your own treasure. Ask…and it is yours for the taking, as much as you need!
But you have to ask.
Similarly, if you desire personal forgiveness in the broad sense of the word for all the wrongs and bent of your being, you must ask the One who has the treasure and the key.
If you do ask, it comes to you with a couple of rules:
first is that you are receiving freely, there is no price you can pay that is enough to cover the cost…it is free…and as a free gift you are then bound to give freely as well.
And the second is that from that day forward, however and in what manner you choose to forgive others you are setting the measure for your own forgiveness process. Again know that I am asserting that based on my understanding of the words of Jesus. You will have to decide if it has any merit on your own.
Now, and this is crucial to get: as you choose to grant forgiveness, your forgiveness will function in both the “Universal” arena and the “Personal” area. That point is the absolute key to a clear heart in your decisions about forgiveness.
Now it is time to explore the process on our end personally…let me take you through my own decision matrix, okay?
There was a situation that I am thinking of in which I was deeply violated, actually spiritually ganged up on by a group of men in the “Name of Jesus” (of course, isn’t it always?)…I left that meeting torn up inside, literally mauled and torn apart, and each one of them had taken their turn at me. I was absolutely completely totally innocent of the charges. But how does one prove a negative? Right? If it did not diminish the horror and evil of actual physical rape, I would call it a spiritual rape.
As I drove home, barely able to see from the tears and sorrow and hurt of violation, I was talking to Them, for They knew of my innocence! And I was running thru the matrix, and ultimately was able to choose to forgive, and by that I meant in the Universal sense…they did not know what they thought they knew. I chose that they did not owe me anything before God for what had occurred.
I never ever told them of this…nothing is quite so smarmy and sickening as the so called saint who comes back and boasts odiously “I forgive you”, when in fact you haven’t asked for forgiveness and maybe you don’t need forgiveness! Maybe they are just offended right?
No, I never said a word, but inside my own heart, still hurt and torn (and was for months after) I declared that they did not owe me. I did so because I felt that to be the authentic loving thing to do, and because I know…I know what a generous measure I need for forgiveness in my own life! I want to over-forgive rather than under-forgive!
But I never ever brought it up with those men. And there is not one of them that I ever tried to be close to or spend time with or give access to my heart to. Why would I? They were violators…but worse…they were unrepentant!
After several weeks, one of them finally pulled his head and came to me. Stupid me, I thought he had come to repent, and my heart leapt in joy at the chance to truly forgive a truly repentant heart.
See, repentance is not “just being sorry”. It is not mere remorse, not mere apology. No, repentance is when you know…you know what you have done, and there has been a deep and fundamental sorrow over that act accompanied by a total determination to do whatever is necessary to repair and restore the person hurt. Repentance is when you have the revelation that what you did was wrong, period. Full stop. End of story. There is no justification, no excuse, no explanation…there is only:
“I hurt you terribly, and I was sooo deeply wrong! I grieve over what I have done and will do my best to learn from this and ask for help in becoming a different and better person. Should you ever decide to give me the opportunity to repair and restore our friendship it will be far greater than I deserve. In the meantime, I withdraw to give you space to make the best decision for you, and just know I will be refining everyday, seeking to become better.”
Or words to that effect.
Sigh…as I look back I see how this was a difficult thing for me to learn…the presence of an apology does not indicate a truly repentant heart. It is one of the ways that we empower abusive people in our relationships, this notion that an apology is the purchase medium and forgiveness is the commodity, and if you don’t “sell a forgiveness to them” then you are the one with the problem, you are the one with the issue. That is a lie.
The only condition under which you are obligated to even take a LOOK at the possibility to give forgiveness in this category of “Personal Forgiveness” is a repentant heart making no demands whatsoever and determined to do whatever is already possible to do to repair and restore.
But no…he had gotten wind that I was hurt, and so he came and demanded I forgive him…said that he had a right to be forgiven!! OMFG!! (and I almost said that outloud on the spot!!) He violated me, and then demanded his right for forgiveness.
I tried to explain to him the need for repentance, for recognition and understanding of the essential wrong and violation…his reply? “Just tell me the magic words and I will say them, okay?”
Well, needless to say, I didn’t say to him “I forgive you”. The mere saying of those words would have been meaningless! There was nothing to forgive and no way to forgive because the required cognizance on his part was absent.
I had already forgiven in the Universal sense of declaring they owed me nothing…but in the personal sense, there was no platform for the forgiveness to take place, because the repentance aspect was missing.
Chew on these things for awhile…and in the mean time I will confess that I have been steeped in the Coerced Forgiveness culture, and I think that I experienced some of the wounds I did to help develop these current understandings. Before I conclude, I will refer you to a beautiful post on forgiveness, which I think contains the elements that I refer to above…it is over at Dani’s blog “Blooming Spiders” (yaaay Dani!)…
…and then I will confess here my recent guilt of “demanding forgiveness”. It happened last year, around this time. I very foolishly shared some incredibly explosive news with someone I love deeper than life itself, and my timing was atrocious! Totally self centered, completely shared out of desperation and insecurity and a deep need for this person’s love and approval. She has always secretly been my hero, and it has at times been hard for us because we are a lot alike. Well, she was hurt, scared, upset, angry, felt I had taken from her the aspect of choice, stripped her of any power to listen with strength and offer me the benefits of who she is. I demanded…
…and she was not wanting to interact with me. Understandably so, I see that now. But at the time I was soo wracked with the guilt and horror at my poor choices and clumsy stomping around…and I was also terrified during this time that I would lose my family like what happens to the vast majority of transgender people. I wanted some reassurance, I wanted restoration myself…but no. Instead of waiting, patiently and penitently enduring, I demanded!
Dearest Lil Red Songbird…I was wrong. I am so sorry for my demands…my insistences…the ways I unwittingly sought to coerce you…and while we have long resolved the original issue I want you to know that I carry that hurt everyday, as a reminder to be careful and wise, and openhanded with power.
Okay, without further ado, head over to Stir Journal and check out a very powerful and provoking piece of writing.
In a life commitment to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly…
PS: I have a poem on this stuff: Gifts You Give Yourself . Perhaps it is helpful? perhaps not…