Thursday, February 14, 2019

How to be forgiving

i) How should we understanding passages like Mt 6:15 and Mt 18:21-35?

One problem is that it might suggest a cynical view of forgiveness. A quid pro quo. I don't forgive you for your sake but for my sake. I don't care about you. I don't forgive you because that's in your best interest, but because forgiving you is an act of enlighten self-interest. Unless I forgive you, I will be damned.

ii) Another difficulty is the specter of coercive forgiveness. "Forgive or else!"

But if I'm forgiving you at gunpoint, I'm I really forgiving you? Isn't coercive forgiveness grudging? Don't I still resent you? I resent having to forgive you. So isn't coercive forgiveness oxymoronic?

iii) Yet another difficulty is that we lack direct control over our feelings. We don't have total control over how we feel about other people. It's not a switch we can flip on and off. 

iv) One issue is whether the forgiveness in view is primarily psychological or performative. What does forgiveness mean? On a behavioral interpretation, I forgive in the sense of relinquishing vengeance. I refuse to get even. 

That parallels the nature of divine forgiveness. What's the opposite of divine forgiveness? Divine punishment.  For God to forgive means foregoing punitive actions. 

v) This is not to deny that forgiveness can have a psychological dimension. I'm just addressing an exegetical question. What does the command to be forgiving mean?

There are ways we can try to cultivate a forgiving attitude. Consider the opposite. Nursing a grudge. Brooding about the past. Keeping a mental list of slights. Reminding ourselves of what that person did to us, rather than letting the memory and intensity of the experience naturally fade with the passage of time.  

In addition, we need to learn not to take ourselves too seriously. Self-importance is a recipe for resentment. 

1 comment:

  1. I have tackled this issue before and come to a 'Look at it from another perspective' view. Turn the equation around.

    Ephesians 4:26-27 is a clear example of this concept. As the joke goes, "How do I control the Earth's rotation?" The point of the command is not to attempt a Joshua on the sun (something you cannot do), but to quench your anger (something which you can do).

    Or "Faith without works is dead." Does this mean that works save us? No, James is actually comparing 'real faith' that produces the fruit of good works VS 'dead faith' that shows no results (echoing the comparison to trees in Matthew 7:18 & Luke 6:43). The correct perspective is that if you have real saving faith, it surely produces good works.

    Now on to forgiveness. "If you do not forgive, neither will you be forgiven." But to the truly repentant, all has been forgiven! Therefore out of gratitude for the immenseness of the Father's forgiveness, they will surely forgive the comparatively minor trespasses committed against them. The correct perspective is that those who don't forgive are those who haven't asked for / accepted God's forgiveness.

    Or to put it yet another way: Since we have been totally forgiven, we have NO CHOICE but to forgive others - lest we make Jesus out to be a liar!

    So just as with 'not letting the sun go down', it's bascially an imperative that we learn a forgiving attitude (goes hand in hand with a humble, first to reconcile attitude).

    This concept of looking a little wider, thinking a little deeper, can be extended to things like Matthew 18:17. Think further than the surface words - how did Jesus Himself treat pagans and tax collectors? (Ironically, Matthew was one of the latter.)