ANOTHER LOOK AT “FORGIVENESS”
We have all felt like victims, at one time or another. We, as humans, are all caught in the Universal Laws -- the cycle of good and bad, happiness and sadness. All of us are consequently at the effect of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual world. Yet as we acknowledge responsibility for our life situations, we would never be victims, and thus, never need to forgive. Responsibility, defined here, has nothing to do with blame, shame, or guilt, but is the empowered act of taking charge of life circumstances. Although this is not easy to do in many circumstances, it is a key to true forgiveness.
As we consider forgiveness as an option to remedy the feeling of victimization, we might possibly squirm at the thought of forgiving, as Jesus puts it, “…not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Realistically speaking, who can forgive repeated assaults on our being, no matter how harsh or slight? Can you imagine someone harming you repeatedly, and expect that you must continually forgive that person so many times? We cannot be so sure that Jesus meant his words to this extreme. Jesus was known to speak in parables, a symbolic language. What we can assert, is that Jesus intends for us to transcend our being in a way that is uncommon.
To understand an uncommon suggestion, we must first look at what is naturally common in forgiveness. Webster’s dictionary explains the definition of forgiveness as follows: to grant pardon or remission of (an offense, sin, etc.); absolve. In serious situations, it may be difficult to forgive, even if one has good intentions. Most often the anger, heating up inside us, is hard to let go. Certainly, an angry heart has no capacity to forgive. Perhaps the pain is too great, and the assault too horrible. If this is the case, then we could choose not to bestow pardon. How can we forgive when there is no room in our heart to do so? When we live within the parameters of Webster’s definition, forgiveness is nothing more than a commodity that quickly becomes a chore.
The act of bestowing the honor of forgiveness on someone when they have deliberately hurt you might be considered a common viewpoint toward forgiveness. When defined this way, we seem to view the forgiver as having the right to bestow a pardon. In Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s “Guide to Forgiveness” he suggests that forgiveness is not so much an act as an attitude. He states that forgiveness happens when we realize that people are not out to get us, but out to take care of themselves. He also asserts that forgiveness is crucial to right living because it frees you from the past that you might engage in the present, both good and bad.
Once we step beyond the common viewpoint of forgiveness, we can take into consideration the key component necessary to truly forgive-- compassion. With compassion comes the virtuous humility necessary to realize that we are all doing the best we can for the moment. It allows us to take on a broader perspective; opening our heart to the possibility that the other person may also be hurting and trying to meet the challenges of their life while they struggle with their own limited vision.
We are all caught, equally, in the spiral of ups and downs, all at the effect of one another and the world. Jesus of Nazareth reminded us that God is all inclusive, and he encouraged us to, again, step beyond the norm.