Wednesday, May 06, 2015

What does it mean to really forgive someone?

As you may experience and say, there are in life experiences of hurt and injustice that are so grievous and hurtful that they are in effect burned into your memory... and this can cause us to experience all manner of strong negative emotions at the very sight or sound or even thought of them... and such after effects can bring us to question whether or not we have forgiven them. For this and other reasons it is important to remember that forgiveness is not about forgetting... our memory faculty does what it is supposed to do, it remembers....

Even after having forgiven, and even years later, at the sight or even the thought of the person who hurt you, you could still feel a violent revulsion, elicited by the memory of the hurt, the injustice, but such revulsion is not precluded by forgiving them. In order to become fully human and fully alive and open to the love of God and eternal life, we are required to forgive so that our soul might be open and receptive to God. We are not required to like those who have hurt us, those who go on hurting us, enemies... because to like a thing or a person is to anticipate a good feeling, a good taste because of that thing or person. I like apples because they taste good and when I see a good one, I salivate from the memory of having eaten apples before. When I see a lovely person who elicits peace, joy, love, I like that person because of the goodness emanating from him or her.

No, I don't have to like those who are so self obsessed that they have no feelings for me or those I love. When I think of such persons, it might happen that when I consider how limited they are in their experience of human life and interiority, and in contrast how rich and blessed God has made me in giving me to experience wonder at all his creation and beauty and also the full range of deep human experience from compassion to charity, from kindness to heroic acts of service; then it might happen that upon looking at those who have little or none of these finer human capabilities, that I might feel pity for them, and perhaps regret that they have not allowed themselves to go further, or let God open them up to becoming more human, more like Him....

Pity is already the beginning of what Jesus commanded us to do with enemies, with those who hurt or do evil to us, that is, to forgive them, not return evil but good to them, pray for them and desire their good, not their harm. I know I have forgiven someone when I push them into God's arms, into Jesus' hands, and ask Him to take care of them, which may one day include punishment if they do not reform.

Beyond pity, what also helps to forgive evil doers is the remembrance of my own sinfulness and fallibility. The more I live and learn about myself, my inclination to selfishness or other faults or flawed virtues, the more I realize how much I depend on the mercy and forgiveness and understanding of God, then the more I can begin to feel some compassion for others who are also flawed human beings. When they multiply offenses against me, I can begin to realize how my faults have similarly offended and hurt others, and then can begin the work of pleading with God to repair the harm I have done to others. In this way, my enemies can provoke me towards having a greater heart of repentance, a greater will to not only do more good but also to repair the harm I may have done, often without realizing it.

When I have traveled this far on the road of forgiveness it could happen that I being to realize how those who have done me harm and even go on doing me harm have been used by God as some kind of "agent provocateur" to provoke in me attitudes, dispositions, acts of the will, and new paths by which God can not only repair my own harm but also bring me into a greater participation in his own work of creation... bringing about more life in others and in his beautiful world, in which after all I am but a creature....

This is already a lot that God is doing and can do as soon as I begin to open myself to forgiving and going beyond that, and all of this goes on by God's loving, merciful, and creative action even though I may still experience hurt, revulsion, and even anger at the sight or memory of my enemies. In these ways, the Holy Trinity brings me into the depths of the divine love among the three divine Persons, and they fashion me into their own resemblance, and my suffering into a resemblance of the suffering of the Son of Man... and in this way giving me more and more participation in the death of Jesus; so that I may also participate more fully in his life, both on Earth and now in eternity....