The virtue of forgiveness

For many, forgiveness is a difficult virtue to master. When we learn the power and wisdom of forgiveness, we are bound to have reached an advanced level of spiritual maturity. Regardless the nature of any possible abuse that we may have endured, nor the severity of that abuse, full recovery from abuse cannot be achieved until we truly forgive our abuser(s). Any anger or resentment we hold within us, live and thrive within us, and become a part of our very self. We will never rid ourselves of this anger and resentment until we experience true forgiveness towards all. Seeing our tormentors suffer a thousand times over will only add to our own misery.

On the other hand, to endure unnecessary torment and misery is never righteous, but a perversion. Also, the righteousness of forgiveness should never involve our condoning abuse or any other forms of evil.

True forgiveness requires our valuing peace and love above all else. Experiencing forgiveness towards those who have wronged us resembles perfect love more so than perhaps any other human experience. Forgiveness involves recognizing and valuing the potential for love that exists within every human soul, including our own soul. Sins cannot be completely forgiven until we forgive, and find an inner peace with, everyone who has ever wronged us; for every ounce of anger and resentment that we hold against any other(s), there will surely exist an ounce of sin held against us – for harboring anger and resentment within our self is sin.

The Golden Rule states, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” Our forgiving everyone, especially those we consider our enemies or adversaries, is to demonstrate to God that we are worthy of His forgiveness. Likewise, to find love for all our enemies and adversaries is to demonstrate to God that we have suffered long enough with our hatred, and we are ready to receive His love.

Again, to experience the true power and wisdom contained within the virtue of forgiveness is to develop great spiritual growth!

Thanks, Robert, for pulling this discussion out of the Nidal Hasan thread. Now I will summarize the main points of my counter-argument, and we can go forward. (Or backward, as the case may be)

  1. God requires that we repent of (change our mind about) and confess (say the same thing that God says) our sins before He forgives them. The concept of unconditional forgiveness (forgiving someone who does not admit that [s]he has done wrong and who has not asked for forgiveness) is nowhere taught in Sacred Scripture, although the concept of forgiving every time one has been asked for forgiveness is taught.

  2. The Catholic Church teaches that repentance and confession are required in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before forgiveness can be obtained from God. The concept of unconditional forgiveness is nowhere taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

  3. Taking the example of the apostles (particularly, Paul), there were people who had offended him whom he had not forgiven, but rather had “turned over to Satan” (see I Tim. 1:20 and II Tim 4:14 for two examples).

  4. It is possible to not forgive, but at the same time not hold anger and resentment.

  5. On the other hand, to require unconditional forgiveness is to require that one be more godly that God, if that were possible. If God doesn’t do something, then neither He nor anyone else can require that we do it.

Let the discussion begin.

What about sociopaths/psychopaths that have no ability to ask for forgiveness for they have no clue of how others feel and/or don’t care.
How would the Church view that?
Mary.

I disagree with you on that. Matthew 18:22-35 teaches about all this, that you have to forgive no matter what. That passage is about a person who only cares about himself only. He will not change who he is. He does evil day after day and doesn’t care to change. He only says sorry when he knows something bad will happen to him to only stay out of trouble,and doesn’t really mean it at all. So we have to forgive from our hearts no matter what.

Actually, this passage supports my position.

Note the sequence of events: 1) The first servant, who is deeply in debt, asks for more time to repay. 2) The master forgives the debt. 3) The first servant demands payment from the second servant. 4) The second servant asks for more time. 5) The first servant refuses and has the second servant thrown into debtor’s prison. 6) The master hears about it; he a) revokes his prior forgiveness and b) has the first servant thrown into debtor’s prison.

The OP’s position is that we need to forgive unconditionally; i.e., without the offender’s admitting that [s]he has offended and asking for forgiveness. That situation (non-repentance, not asking for forgiveness) never happens in this parable, so it doesn’t apply against my position. Second, notice that not only is the master’s forgiveness not unconditional; but he actually revokes his forgiveness, based on the actions of the first servant. So if you want to prove a requirement for unconditional forgiveness from scripture, you’re going to have to find a different passage.

I’ll paraphrase something I said in the other thread – the Catholic Church teaches that forgiveness is conditional on repentance and confession to God through the person of the priest. If God expects us to forgive unconditionally (without repentance and forgiveness), then he is requiring us to do something that He Himself does not do. Either that, or we need to tear the confessionals out of our churches and scrap the Sacrament of Reconciliation, because God is just going to forgive us all anyway, whether we repent or not.

Actually we do need to repent unconditionally and we do need to do it to the people that we hurt or have hurt us. Just because we can go to God and confess our wrongs, God still wants us to go and repent to the person that we wronged, I know from experience(which I wish he would still answer) personally. No matter how many times we confess our wrongs to God that we hurt somebody, he still holds it on our conscience untill we repent to that person directly.

Should you repent to someone if you have judged them & have thus been avoiding them? Also, what happens if someone has something against you but they dont tell you what it is?

In much of psychotherapy it is taught that one must forgive their abusers before they can fully recover from the abuse they endured; the letting go of anger, resentment and hatred. This does not mean that the client should be placed in harms way, but that they should feel reasonably certain that they are safe, be it through repentance on behalf of the perpetrator, or the removal of the perpetrator from their environment.

(In the above, I’m talking about human forgiveness, not forgiveness from the Divine.)

Good point, Mary. The answer is that we need to forgive others unconditionally. Not only is it the Christian thing to do, but it’s also necessary for our psychological wellbeing. We must rid ourselves of all anger and resentment, and the only way for that to happen is through unconditional forgiveness. We cannot simply bury these things in our minds as repressed memories, where they will eventually resurface as unexplained anger and resentment; only true forgiveness will suffice.

God certainly can forgive ‘sins’ without repentance. Take for example the person who commits suicide due to severe depression or pain. It is said in the Church that God can forgive such people due to their mental/physical condition. Also, as MaryT777 points out, those suffering with an antisocial personality disorder may not have the capacity to truly repent, but they too may be forgiven by God based on their mental condition.

Please don’t hijack the thread. We’re not talking about our need to ask forgiveness from people that we have wronged; we’re talking about whether or not we’re required to forgive people who have not asked us for forgiveness and do not think that they have wronged us.

And I maintain (see post #2, point 4) that it is possible to let go of anger, resentment, and hatred without judicially forgiving the offender. I have done (and still do) it many times by thinking, “Nah, I don’t have time to mess with that,” and moving on. Even when I have been so seriously offended that I relive the event numerous times in my mind, I eventually come to a point where I make a conscious decision that I have played that track enough, and it’s time to think about something else.

However, this is not forgiveness. If I find myself in a similar situation with the same person again, I will remember the wise words of that great American philosopher Gomer Pyle: “Fooled me once, shame on you. Fooled me twice, shame on me.”

An individual may choose to make unconditional forgiveness part of their lifestyle. However, to require unconditional forgiveness as a mandatory action for all Christians, it must be found taught in Sacred Scripture and/or the Catechism, and I’m sorry, but it just ain’t there in either place. God does not require us to do for others what He will not do for us.

Repressing such anger and resentment will only lead to abnormal behavior in other walks of life. If you did not forgive and are able to just go on with a normal life without any ill effects, then the event must have been pretty trivial, otherwise the anger and resentment would live and grow within you. Why do clinicians generally view forgiveness as a necessary part of the healing process?

Sounds like rather trivial experiences that are being talked about here. But here too, unconditional forgiveness is a most important virtue.

Certainly, not all human issues were talked about in the Holy Scriptures or the CCC. Turning the argument around, neither do the Holy Scriptures or the CCC state that repentance ought to be a necessary condition for human forgiveness to take place.

The Prodigal Son is another parable of Jesus where the father forgave his son before the son had a chance to ask forgiveness.

*Matthew 5:22
But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment… *

Matthew 18:21-22
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Just because somebody doesn’t see that they wronged us doesn’t mean that they didn’t cause us harm especially if we are still playing back in memory, and to us they did harm us. We still need to forgive them, if not then we are holding spirits that will just cause problems later. Playing back a hurtfull event in the mind as if it happend a second ago with all the emotions is PTSD, and the only way to cure it is to forgive that person or it will stay with us and bug us and bring more problems.

Is a given in psychiatry (which has its basis in agnostic science, but that’s another discussion) that “repressing anger” must inevitably lead to abnormal behavior? I think not.

Sounds like rather trivial experiences that are being talked about here. But here too, unconditional forgiveness is a most important virtue.

One person’s trivial is another person’s major. In my life some of them have been pretty major. It’s not really your place to judge, when you know nothing of the circumstances.

**Certainly, not all human issues were talked about in the Holy Scriptures or the CCC. **Turning the argument around, neither do the Holy Scriptures or the CCC state that repentance ought to be a necessary condition for human forgiveness to take place.

True, but in order for an issue to be mandatory for Catholic Christians, it must be unequivocally taught in one place or the other.

The Prodigal Son is another parable of Jesus where the father forgave his son before the son had a chance to ask forgiveness.

*Matthew 5:22
But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment… *

Matthew 18:21-22
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

I think it is likely that in the parable the father knew what the son was going to say before he opened his mouth. Or are you saying that God (the antitype of the father in the parable) forgives without repentance and confession? It’s a simple question; a “yes-or-no” answer will cover it. But bear in mind that one absolutely cannot teach that Catholic Christians must forgive without repentance and confession on the part of the offender, and then turn around and say that Catholic Christians must partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in order to be forgiven by God.

Matt. 18:21-22 must be taken in the context of Luke 17:3-4 – Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.

In all of psychoanalysis it is taught that repressing anger will result in negative, abnormal behaviors in one’s life, Moreover repression always depletes one of his spiritual (psychic) energy. Freeing up this spiritual energy (i.e., resolving emotional conflicts) is the primary goal of all psychoanalysis.

Didn’t mean to judge by any means. My apologies!

Mandatory according to Matthew 18:21-22, and a most important virtue!

YES! See post #10 for when it would be the case.

You’re confusing Divine forgiveness with human forgiveness. Again, Matthew 18:21-22 is ever so pertinent here.

Your assuming when you say Luke 17:3-4 somehow overrides Matthew 18-21-22. Why not take the flip side of that and say that Matthew 18-21-22 overrides Luke 17:3-4, and that repentance is not necessary? (Is it that it does not fit in with your agenda?) Read the verses from Matthew again, pay special attention to the fact that nowhere in the verses does Peter say that his brother has repented! If repentance was necessary for forgiveness, surely it would have been included within these verses. This is the Gospel, after all; a proclamation of the Good News. No errors or inaccuracies whatsoever!

The CCC pay special attention to 2282, which 2283 does not negate:

2282 Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

I don’t understand why you think that it is so difficult for a normal human being to decide to let go of anger over an offense without having to get his/her head shrunk.

Mandatory according to Matthew 18:21-22, and a most important virtue!

Your assuming when you say Luke 17:3-4 somehow overrides Matthew 18-21-22. Why not take the flip side of that and say that Matthew 18-21-22 overrides Luke 17:3-4, and that repentance is not necessary? (Is it that it does not fit in with your agenda?) Read the verses from Matthew again, pay special attention to the fact that nowhere in the verses does Peter say that his brother has repented! If repentance was necessary for forgiveness, surely it would have been included within these verses. This is the Gospel, after all; a proclamation of the Good News. No errors or inaccuracies whatsoever!

Well, either 1) one or the other is wrong, or 2) (more likely) the repentance of the offending party is understood in the Matthew passage, because it had always been part of Jesus’ teachings. It certainly is explicit in the Luke passage and in other passages.

The only way one can successfully let go of the anger and resentment is by way of forgiveness. (This is not to say that there are not naysayers out there who would say to the contrary, especially among atheistic psychotherapist who have an ax to grind against Christians; but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.) I’m not making this up; forgiveness is largely viewed as necessary for the letting-go of anger and resentment in psychotherapy.

Examples:
apa.org/pubs/videos/4310706.aspx

howtoforgivewhenyoucant.com/therapy.php

amazon.com/Before-Forgiving-Cautionary-Forgiveness-Psychotherapy/dp/0195145208

The last of these examples provides a balanced view that forgiveness ought not to be automatic while still driving home the notion that forgiveness is the goal in psychotherapy.

I’m not in any way suggesting that either the verses in Matt or Luke need to be wrong, but simply putting forth the notion that in Matt, forgiveness need not entail repentance. I’m also suggesting that such a view cannot be automatically dismissed just because repentance is used in Luke. The bottom line: In neither story do we get a definitive answer.

You bring up a very important parable in this discussion. Without realizing it, I was always deeply troubled by the story of the master and the servants. In the verse, Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven times, and then tells us a story in which a master forgives his servant only once and says that it how the Father is going to treat us.

So one day I was sitting in a Catholic Bible study led by a Bible scholar (priest), and he explained the story this way (paraphrased): God always forgives, but if we do not forgive others, all others, we will never be capable of knowing a God who forgives us.

It is true, God as we know God in our own relationship with Him is only going to be as forgiving as we are. If I do not forgive Hitler, for example, I cannot fathom a God who does so.

This same scholar told us that the Jesus’ contemporaries had very personal relationships with God. If they were happy, then God was smiling on them. If they were sad, then God was treating them badly. If they felt guilty, then God was holding them in contempt. Jesus knew, though, that when we forgive everyone, unconditionally, we will know that God does the same. Can we fathom God as less forgiving than we are? Not possible.

The concept of unconditional forgiveness was taught from the cross. Not only did Jesus forgive an unrepentant crowd, but He showed us how to forgive, how to see people’s blindness. “… for they know not what they do…”

We are all blind at times, and people fail to repent because of this very same blindness. God forgives our blindness. However, you are quite accurate in that repentance is essential. If situations are out of control, it is extremely difficult to forgive. Imagine, for example, asking Syrian Christians to forgive their persecutors today. The same is applied internally, if I am out of control of my addiction, then it will be very difficult to forgive myself. Even though God does forgive me, I will not experience such forgiveness if I am constantly beating myself up. And in order to forgive myself, I have to get things under control. This is slavery, and freedom comes from repentance - and forgiveness.

This is another important quote from the Gospels to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing!

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