A Scandalous Forgiveness Case Study

I am continuing to unpack my “theory” of forgiveness. If you need to get caught up, it started about a week ago and you can find all posts at northstarcommunity.com/blog.

Forgiveness is either an action or a lack of action. Depending on circumstances, forgiveness is either 1. treating the wrongdoer as if no offense has occurred or 2. refusing to demand repayment from the wrongdoer.

An example

I’ll use a hypothetical example so I’m not treading on anyone’s personal stories here. Let’s say that Jason and Jenny are married. Let’s say Jasons’ best friend, Tiger, had sex with Jason’s wife, Jenny. Let’s also say, for the sake of dealing with a “clean” case study, that Jason and Jenny had, up until this point, a very normal and healthy marriage relationship. Jason is the aggrieved party on two fronts.

We’ve used money lending as a primary metaphor for this theory. Forgiveness is like a money lender refusing to demand repayment from a borrower.

How do we assess this example in terms of our “debt” metaphor? We have to ask this question if we are to discover how we might refuse to demand repayment (assuming that we simply cannot do option 1 and treat the offender as if no harm has occurred)..

What is the debt that is owed?

The debt is whatever used to be present in the relationship that is now missing. The debt is the offense. The debt is also the fallout from the offense. The debt, in the case of something that does not involve money, is a number of factors combined. In this case we’re dealing with betrayal, deceit, disrespect, infidelity, and more. Just as we discussed in class, the trust that was formerly present is now gone. The debt is the accumulation of all the “bad stuff” now present in the relationship in conjunction with the “good stuff” that is lost. In such a case as this, there is no single way to analyze and articulate what the debt is- other than to point to the harm done.

Another way to look at it is to say that the debt is the thing that needs to be compensated for when a wrongdoer makes amends. Now, we know right away that some debts, including the one described here, cannot be simply compensated for. At least, not in short order. But, if we imagine Jenny offered to make amends, what would she be making amends over? Likely, all the of the issues listed above and a few more.

If you’re having a hard time articulating “the debt”, ask yourself what the wrongdoer would make amends over and that will get you somewhere in the neighborhood.