3 More Things Forgiveness Is Not
Article 4-C of the Forgiveness Section of the Positive Psychology SeriesThis article concludes a short series on what forgiveness is not. This series is situated within a larger series on forgiveness, which is a central concept in the study of what leads to and correlates with human thriving known as Positive Psychology. In my previous articles, I have argued that forgiveness is not about forgetting, accepting transgressions, or condoning behavior. It is not weakness, the subversion of justice, or a mere feeling. In this article, I outline three more things that forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is Not Always Preceded by an Apology
While apology and forgiveness famously go together (think of children who are taught to practice saying: “I’m sorry. I took your ball. Will you forgive me?”), the two are also distinct. You may not have the chance to reconcile with your transgressor, and you may not even receive an apology. Apologies can be very healing, yet they can also be tragically rare. But this does not impact your ability to forgive. Do not wait for an apology before you forgive. In fact, the most important cases of forgiveness come long after an apology was due, and in its absence.
Forgiveness is certainly more difficult when a transgressor does not apologize at all. And forgiveness becomes truly complicated when a transgressor gives an insincere apology. Transgressors will sometimes take the matter further and aggressively insist that they were the one wronged and that the forgiver is the one at fault. Forgiveness tests our character, especially in these circumstances. You need to remember that the transgressor does not need to be contrite in order for you to forgive them – your forgiveness is for your own sake, and not to bring about a certain outcome. Have you ever been forgiven? Was there ever a time when you were forgiven before you could actually appreciate that you needed forgiveness?
Forgiveness is Not a One-Time Event
Every human being will be transgressed against many times in their life, and only Christ can forgive “once and for all” (Hebrews 10). We need to keep on forgiving our transgressors. But what’s more, a single instance of forgiveness may well require continual effort. It is a common misconception that if someone forgives truly, they will leave it at that and never need to revisit the matter. Just check in with your heart. You will discover that in the instances where a transgression really hurt, declaring your forgiveness does not end your struggle with bitterness. The hurt and the inclination toward resentment come up again … and again. It would be better if children were taught to forgive as often as they need to, even for the same offense. This would emphasize the heart condition of the forgiver (and would even offer a sense of personal forgiveness, if they are not able to fully forgive at first), rather than viewing a one-time legalistic act as sufficient.
Forgiveness Does Not Mean Swallowing Your Pride
In considering what forgiveness is and is not in this series, we have seen that the concept of forgiveness is a bit of a paradox. For example, forgiveness does not necessarily mean to forget or to reconcile, but it is the best hope for it. Forgiveness may seem like weakness, but it is in fact true strength. Forgiveness should not center on feeling better, but it is likely to lead you to feeling better.
The same is true of the idea that forgiveness involves taking a one-down stance. In one way, this is certainly true – forgiveness requires a humble heart in order to make the first move. Yet, at the same time, forgiveness is a truly noble act as it has no motive for personal gain, yet yields a harvest of freedom and life. Forgiveness is an act of greatness, something to be proud of. Forgiveness does not reduce a person or make them less, instead it is a moment of graduating into the best of humanity and testing the boundaries of what one can let go of.
Forgiveness is an act of faith that life and not death will be the reward of such vulnerability and good-will. And faith is regarded in the Bible as the greatest strength of all. At times forgiveness will certainly not seem like a grand act that is worthy of pride – it is difficult and expensive to the heart. But, given that there is no way to be repaid for wounds of the heart, one needs to trust that forgiving the debt and abandoning bitterness is the greater gain, in the midst of feeling the pain. And it is.
Christian Counseling to Tap into the Power of Forgiveness
If you would like to engage Christian counseling from a strengths-based perspective, please contact me to inquire about setting up an initial session in order to explore how counseling might fit with your journey and perhaps assist you in the matter of forgiveness. It is my pleasure to join with clients and help them to see the ways in which they have already overcome in life, and how God has uniquely shaped them both to do great things and to experience joy and goodness in their lives and relationships.
“I’m Sorry,” courtesy of Leyram Odacrem, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “One Step at a Time — Wood Footbridge,” courtesy of splitshire.com