Forgiveness – A Counsellor’s viewpoint

I bet you get this wrong!  What is the definition of ‘hypocrisy’?  Did you say something along the lines of ‘a person who doesn’t practice what they preach’?  Wrong!  As you can see from the scriptures, a hypocrite is someone who unknowingly doesn’t practice what they preach. Otherwise they would simply be a cheat or fraudster.  Many a Jewish priest in Jesus’ time would have been quite sincere in their faith, but Jesus still labelled them hypocrites.

In similar vein the definition of Selfish is knowingly putting your own needs before other peoples.  If you unknowingly put your own needs before other peoples’ then you would be Self-Centred, for as you are the centre of your world you cannot see other peoples’ needs unless they are pointed out to you.  You are then likely to be quite surprised, remorseful, and apologise.

Self-Love is a bit harder to define, but it is something about self-respect and understanding that it is necessary to put your needs forward at times over and above the needs of others’. 

Self-respect demands respecting others, and vice versa, for if there is no respect for others it demeans self and lessens self-respect.  You cannot have one without the other.  Self-respect, therefore, requires a more mature outlook and awareness, and as self-respect grows it can almost be regarded as a measure of spirituality! To quote, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

Compare that against selfishness, which could therefore be seen as a measure of spiritual paucity.  We can see that self-respect and selfishness are in a constant tension or balance that probably only God can untangle, for one person’s selfishness is another person’s self-love or self-respect.  Only God and the person concerned has any idea as to which is dominant in any given situation, and spirituality is expressed through how that tension is worked. 

One outcome that always has to be parried is guilt, for if you put your own needs before others, especially of those people you love, then you need to deal with any feelings of guilt that arise.  You tell yourself off for letting those feelings be so strong, and you assuage them with arguments of needfulness and self-love.  You forgive yourself – sort of, or at least justify your actions.

When other people are involved, the picture becomes far more complex and dynamic.  It isn’t just your initial feelings that have sway, for other peoples’ comments and arguments, sometimes hotly contested and voiced, are added to the mix.  They will undoubtedly evoke further reactions and strong feelings in yourself, so the emotional intensity would rise exponentially with possible disastrous results.  Coming back from such an encounter may be difficult for things once said cannot be unsaid.  In such cases bridge building is needed with forgiveness offered and accepted.

Forgiveness, however, is not simply something that is black or white.  There are innumerable shades of grey that can be uncovered.  There are likes and dislikes about the ‘other person’ who has hurt you or argued with you, and how far you are prepared to put these aside.  Is any remorse genuine?  Words can easily be said but how deep do they convey that person’s true feelings?  If an apology is sensed to be only skin deep, then any forgiveness will tend to be shallow as a consequence, and any further tension or reinforcement of the original slight will open up the wounds and make future forgiveness problematic. 

However, if the bridge building is felt to be sincere then any forgiveness by either party will be real and heartfelt and the relationship stronger than previously thought possible.  That outcome strengthens the character, warms the heart, and deepens one’s understanding of Life’s journey.

When one considers any relationship with God, then the whole matter is magnified manyfold.  God knows our heart far, far better than we may know ourselves.  If we are remorseful and repentance is genuine, then even if the human interrelationship takes a battering and our apology is rejected, God restores our spirits and lifts them in a growing spirituality.  We are born again or renewed in faith.  We remain in communion with Him. 

But can we stay in communion with God and not forgive other people, for indeed in the Lord’s Prayer we ask for forgiveness as we forgive others?  The answer again is not a simple yes or no.

There were times when Jesus said we should forgive others again and again – seventy times seven.  There was the awesome moment on the cross when Jesus asked his Father to forgive his persecutors ‘for they know not what they do’.  But he also gave examples of NOT forgiving others. He also instructed the disciples to shake the dust off their feet if people rejected their offering of the Good News of Salvation through Repentance.  He even ‘blasted’ a fig tree for not delivering the promised fruit, and Peter caused the death of a husband and wife who tried to cheat the early church of some assets.  No forgiveness there.

Forgiveness usually involves two parties – and both parties need to make acceptance of the situation known to the other.  In other words there needs to be honesty about the whole situation.  If another person’s behaviour offends you and you pretend that it is ok with you – then spiritual brownie points will, no doubt, be deducted!  Not a good idea, for that is a form of lying, and you cannot lie to God. 

If another person’s behaviour offends you and you go through the motions of forgiveness but deep down you still rage, then that is hypocrisy – and that is even worse than non-forgiveness. 

But if the person’s behaviour offends and you genuinely accept that behaviour of the other person, then that is a ‘turning of the other cheek’.  Your spiritual bank account goes up in value. 

Even better would be being open about how it upsets you but still accepting of that other person’s behaviour, for then there is room for making amends between you and forgiveness expressed and accepted.  That is a form of Absolution between each other on the human level. 

If all else fails and the person’s behaviour continues to offend and you just cannot say anything or accept the situation, then self-respect demands separation and no continuation of the relationship.  That is honesty in action, and no hiding things from God.  It leaves a possible reconciliation in the future and a place still for God in your heart. 

Remember a heartfelt ‘bloody hell’ is infinitely better than a spiritually castrated ‘alleluia’. 

You might think that all this flies in the face of conventional theology of Forgiveness and Absolution, but this is a working out of theological dogma for everyday living amongst your family, colleagues, neighbours, and fellow church goers.  It is not a simple process where you simply smile and say, ‘God loves you’.  That might only add up to a denial of what is truly going on within you – hypocrisy once again.  Forgiveness is quite a hurdle to attempt and that communion or closeness to the Divine is likely to be essential for a positive outcome.