Forgiveness was something I valued greatly when I was a Christian. Forgiveness is a key principle in Christian theology and ethics. And though I have left Christianity, I still look back with fondness for what I learned of forgiveness during my Christian days. And even as an atheist, I still value Forgiveness highly — although perhaps I only value a selfish forgiveness.
When wronged by someone, our almost immediate emotion is fear, anger or sadness. Forgiveness allows me to slowly let go of these emotions. However, my forgiveness is not the same as “trust”. I “forgive” my transgressor by not nurturing the initial fear, anger or sadness, but I still hold a cautious attitude toward that person. That is, I try to assure that the offender can no longer cause the same offense to me or ours (if I can help). Mind you, depending on the offense and the person, I may also allow the person to come back into my trust realm too if and when I feel real change occurs in that person. So I am not a person to unnecessarily hold long grudges — for it seems grudges are a poison to ourselves.
But the ideal pure forgiveness of turning the other cheek is not something I value without qualification. In my Christian days, I valued the non-violence of the Mennonite tradition (having read John Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus“-1972) and later the ahimsa of Gandhi. But I no longer believe in unqualified non-violence. I believe in violence only as a last resort, but that doesn’t say much unless you qualify my resorts! However, if turning the other cheek makes me healthier and I can bear the strike, I may opt for that type of forgiveness also. My selfish forgiveness may seem like cheap to idealists, but to me it is at least better than resentment. I think forgiveness can allow evil to thrive. I don’t believe that simply by “nonviolence” or “turning the other cheek” some god or karma-machine to make it all right in the end. I use to try to believe this in my Christian day but I don’t any more. If my forgiveness helps myself and the other person, all the better, but the other person is not the first on my list depending on the nature of the offense.
The “selfish forgiveness” which I value is for my sake. It helps me not to burden my life with fear, anger or sadness. If it helps the other person, great, but I am not at the level where I will necessarily sacrifice my health, property or happiness for another person’s neurosis or peversion while all along hoping that choice is honored by the divine. And I am not always successful at selfish forgiveness, but it is a skill I value.
What do you feel about forgiveness? Can you share a story of how your forgave?