I started thinking about this issue of forgiveness this week and I wanted to revisit it from my typical, psychological, sociological as well as theological perspective. I'm not going to start with personal stories to illustrate the question, because that always comes across that I'm looking for guidance for my very specific situation. But I want to raise a much broader question about forgiveness in general.
Example 1, Extreme Forgiveness.
I knew about a man who was a full-time Christian worker and author. His 25 year old son was struggling to find some kind of work he could do. He eventually took up driving a taxi in a large US city.
Soon after taking the new job, one night a man pulled a gun on him and demanded his money. He only had about $30 on him and gave him all of it. The man then shot him in the back of the head (killing him) and tossed his body out of the cab and drove off with it. The police eventually found the cab later that night, had a shoot-out with the assailant, wounding him. The assailant was in the hospital.
In the midst of his grief, the father went to the hospital told the man that he completely forgave him for killing his son. He shared the gospel with the man and he immediately accepted Christ.
Now, this story was the cover story of the monthly journal for the magazine of the Christian organization, which the father worked with. It was an amazing story and became folklore and an example of Christian forgiveness.
I know I'm cynical at times, but I'm going to ask some honest questions . . . taking in consideration of the typical human psychological dynamics.
First I must ask, what is true Biblical forgiveness? Next time I want to look up some passages to cross examine.
Secondly, of course only this forementioned father and God knows the truth, but is there a chance that the father was acting out of extreme social pressure to be seen as the "godly man," rather than a heart-felt forgiveness? What I'm getting at, is that I've watch someone lose their son in an equally tragic way, and gave God praises because they wanted to live up to their concept of the Christian ideal.
Now, if someone killed one of my kids, I can imagine some day understanding the perpetrator's motives (say they did it out of a crack cocaine rage) and certainly not holding it against them. But I would always feel the anger of the loss. Is that what forgiveness really is . . . just giving up the right of wanting to punish them? Or is it "forgetting" the emotions of it?
I was told once (in error I believe) that true forgiveness is where you actually (supernaturally) forget what the other person had done, and end up completely trusting them in the same area where they hurt you.
Example 2, Moderate (but toxic) Forgiveness. I've heard this following story from several sources so it is an conglomeration of several examples.
A pastor spiritually abuses his wife for years. Puts her down. Criticizes her (in the name of God) all the time. He also controls her, using spiritual manipulation to get exactly what he wants from the family's money to getting out of chores and abuses in the bedroom. Finally it gets to physical abuse and he tells her in the privacy of the bedroom that if she ever tells he will kill her, in the name of God, because it would ruin him.
So finally, after sharing her private grief with a friend, she is given the courage to leave. The husband/pastor then starts horrible rumors about his wife, that she was sleeping around, abusing prescription drugs and etc. (all lies) and that she has turned her back on God. The pastor is so convincing that the entire church believes him and she looses virtually all her good friends, in-laws and even her only family doubts her. The pastor portrays himself (in a narcissistic way) that he is the real victim.
Her husband then excels in his work. The denomination promotes him to a bigger church. Eventually he marries the women (whom the wife suspected he was interested in even while they were married). He goes on to be a great Christian hero and even being a conference speaker and marriage enrichment seminar leader.
Since this crime against the wife is perpetual, how does she forgive him? Can the anger ever go away?