Forgiveness and "bad" feelings

25 Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. 26 But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ 27 The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan. Matthew 18:25-27, CEB

We have gotten accustomed, in our culture, to perceiving forgiveness in terms of our emotions only. The most common definition, I would guess, goes something like this: Forgiveness is what happens when all my negative feelings about my wrongdoer are gone. It’s such a common definition, in fact, I suspect many might be thinking, “Of course that’s forgiveness. What else is there?”

Yesterday we talked about forgiveness in money-lending as refusing to demand repayment (or refusing to take action in the form of punishment). We see that again in this parable. We see no indication of how the master may have felt, other than compassion, which does not mean he didn't have other, more complicated feelings as well. In a few days time, we're going to examine in detail how we could apply this mentality (refusing to demand repayment) to our own forgiveness situations. But first, this:

I’ve spent the past few weeks reading about and lamenting the sexual abuse scandal that continues to plague Christianity. I’m not a naturally empathetic person but my heart breaks for those victims, their families, their congregations, their communities. I can't help but be dissatisfied in our culture's definition of forgiveness and its focus on feelings. How will a sexually abused child ever get rid of all of their negative feelings towards their abuser?

We could answer this in one of two ways. When we’re locked into a definition of forgiveness that is about emotions we’re stuck with this answer: God has to do it. There’s an element of truth to that of course. There is no forgiveness without God and God is actively involved in all acts of forgiveness. All the same, this strikes me as a somewhat unsatisfying answer on the whole. And I have two reasons for this.

1. Some people have been harmed too greatly to get past their negative emotions.

2. If we simply say, “God has to do it,” then we are not wrestling deeply enough with the question of how we encourage people to practice forgiveness. God needs to be active for forgiveness to take place, but we must also be active. If we do not need to act, then why does God encourage us to be forgiving?

More to come.