We often hear that our acts of forgiveness are the greatest gifts we can ever give ourselves in terms of mental and emotional well being. Forgiveness is also recognized as a spiritual act, one that is essential to our relationships with one another.
I am aware of numerous accounts of people who regained their peace of mind and escaped crippling emotions by just deciding to let go of animosity and a demand for restitution and, instead, unilaterally forgiving a person who had deeply wounded them. The sense of freedom and release that they describe after these decisions and experiences are powerful and even awe inspiring.
Despite those stories most of us find granting forgiveness for perceived wrongs exceedingly difficult. After being wronged, we are much more likely to hold a grudge, mentally relive the offense endlessly, and let the bile of hatred, mistrust, and victimhood eat out our insides. The human tendency to seek retribution for wrongs and not reconciliation means that forgiveness can never be given without being preceded by the repentance of the offender. For forgiveness to even be considered by the wronged party, the one who offended must admit their guilt and beseech the offended one for forgiveness. In other words, the offended person’s hands are tied unless the offender is ready and willing to accept their guilt and make the first move.
Quite naturally this attitude denies that forgiveness is a gift the offended party can give themselves. If forgiveness requires that the offender admit guilt and seek reconciliation, then a unilateral decision by the offended party is not sufficient. He cannot just grant forgiveness on his own volition. Instead, the offended one is interminably caught up in an emotional straight jacket.
Quite obviously, this definition of forgiveness with its negative psychological consequences is fostered by conventional Christian theology, which predicates God’s forgiveness of the wayward human being on their willingness and ability to repent and ask for that forgiveness. That petition for forgiveness takes the form of praying a sinner’s prayer or otherwise signaling through prescribed church rituals that the sinner is seeking reconciliation. This doctrine depicts God as powerless in the act of forgiveness until we give Him the necessary repentance. The entire issue of forgiveness hinges completely on us, and without our cooperation, God is stuck in His own emotional limbo, just like we are when our demand for justice denies us the peace, joy, and freedom of reconciliation.
This concept of forgiveness and reconciliation is just another way in which we have cast God in our own weak image and handcuffed Him and ourselves in an array of misconceptions. A God who seeks reconciliation with everyone and who operates in strict accordance with His own Will doesn’t need anything from me in order to forgive. And in forgiving without conditions, wouldn’t God find the same joy and satisfaction that human unconditional forgivers have so often related and described.