Saturday, July 11, 2009

Forgiveness Clarified: Thanks to a Friend

Only recently I had a fruitful discussion with an old friend I’ve known almost all my life. It’s amazing how life changes, because he and I are almost related through marriage. We discussed forgiveness, exchanging views, learning from each other.

What I didn’t realise at the time was this subject was now primed in my subconscious for a time yet undisclosed--fast forward to Tuesday 6 July this year. On this night I learned something quite basic about forgiveness that I don’t think I’d ever considered before.

It takes two parties to agree before forgiveness (true forgiveness) can be achieved.

Until I’d taken this knowledge on board I was of the belief that it was only up to me to forgive the people who’d hurt me, and it didn’t depend on them at all. I was wrong.

The discussion I had with my friend was a blessing in that he found it untenable that forgiveness could simply be a one-sided issue--and theologically and practically he was right.

What I was espousing was actually acceptance and the work of God’s grace in my own life--and this is enough to experience a vast peace, but it’s still not total relational forgiveness.

An excerpt from a parenting course I’m doing on the subject of forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is a process requiring agreement between two parties. It begins with the one offended, who offers it to the offender... The very essence of forgiveness [toward restoration of the relationship] requires acceptance on the part of the offender.”[1] (Italics in original.)

In my very incomplete personal example there had not been the full cycle toward restoration of the relationship because the offender in my situation was still in a state of non-acceptance. This can only lead us both--both parties to the conflict and possible future restoration--to ongoing conflict.

And this is my ongoing challenge. In keeping the peace in this relationship, it is up to me, for there is little cooperation or consideration at times from the other person. I’m not able to change this situation because the circumstances drive it--I praise God, however, that he’s given me this opportunity as a means of sharpening my character one day at a time.

I have now, through my friend and this course, learned to use the word ‘forgiveness’ more circumspectly. Forgiveness is only part (though a major part) of the restorative process for relationships. It is too easy to see it in isolation, and to see it incompletely, and that’s one thing I’ve learned.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Gary & Anne Marie Ezzo, Let the Children Come... Along the Virtuous Way: Growing Kids God’s Way (Happy Valley, South Australia: Growing Families Australia, 2002), p. 207.


servus said...

An excellent article. But it raises some bigger issues.

This article highlights why some maintain a healthy skepticism about "The Apology" in relation to indigenous reconciliation.

Unless the indigenous people are simultaneously prepared to forgive their offenders, the whole exercise could be called into question.

And billions more in compensation payments from the offenders is no guarantee that forgiveness from the offended will be forthcoming.

S.J. Wickham said...

Gee, that's an excellent point.

Psalms (amongst other biblical theology) so effectively cover both individual and communal issues, and this is your point from my reading of it.

Forgiveness has an individual perspective, but it also pertains to entire people groups, and foreseeably to a myriad of circumstances in-between.

As a person passionate about "The Apology" I can certainly vouch for the personal desperation we feel for the indigenous to accept the apology--that's my prayer. But will it ever be complete? i.e. to each and every indigenous person?

Thank you for this perspective. It's incredibly salient in illustrating the limitations in the restorative process.

Acceptance of these limitations is the key, I find.

servus said...

Steve, just to clarify, I am not against reconciliation, per se.

However there are a lot of different stakeholders, not all being so heavenly minded as others.

There was an excellent story on Stateline [ABC TV] last night showing how the local Meekatharra community was learning how to relate better with each other with a Karaoke "Meeka Idol" competition.

It certainly makes a welcome change from all the alcohol fueled violence in the past.

It was a wonderful Indigenous Baptist Pastor, Ronnie Williams [now in Heaven] who highlighted to me the importance of mutual forgiveness as a higher spiritual priority over an "apology".

Cindy Jacobs also touches on some of these themes in her recent book "The Reformation Manifesto", from a communal point of view. It is at Koorong. Certainly worth picking up.