Friday, April 16, 2010

Forgiveness in the News

Last week, it was reported in the news that the Vatican forgave the Beatles.  More accurately, I understand that the Vatican forgave one of them for saying they were more popular than Jesus.  I had to roll my eyes.  Who knows what the facts really are, but somewhere in this news story, the reality of forgiveness is lost.  I suspect there is more to the story than we read in the papers, but as it stands, this one sure makes the Vatican look ridiculous.

Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves; it is not necessarily for the sake of the offender.  If we forgive for the sake of the offender, we have a distorted view of what forgiveness truly is.  If we are practiced in the process of forgiveness, we know that forgiveness is something we do to free ourselves. It is unrealistic to expect that our act of forgiveness will have any affect at all on the offender. If we are forgiving someone with the expectation that they will change, we must admit that our forgiveness has become an attempt to manipulate the other person. That manipulation may be an effort to accuse someone whom we think needs to confess and repent, or it may be an attempt to shame someone into changing their behavior. Pronouncing our forgiveness when it has not sought is really our effort to change the other person. It is much more difficult and honest to gently approach the other about the offense while holding the possibility that we have misunderstood or that the offense was unknown or unintended. We all know how effective it is in relationships to try to change someone else! You would think we would learn…!

In some situations, life-giving forgiveness is something we may do for ourselves. We may not be able to reconcile a relationship if the other is not willing, but we can hold an offender accountable. We hold others accountable by not excusing bad behavior and by setting good boundaries. We don’t have to hang around someone who continually causes us pain. We can communicate honestly and openly and let the other person choose how to respond. We can examine our choices in the relationship and choose what is most healthy and wholesome for ourselves and for the other. It is not healthy and wholesome for either party to permit the other to continue abuse, neglect, dishonesty, or any other destructive behavior. If we love each other enough, we will hold each other accountable. It is the only hope for healing and wholeness in relationships.

There can be a fine line between holding someone accountable and trying to manipulate someone. I think we must examine our motives carefully. While pronouncing unsolicited forgiveness is manipulative, giving appropriate feedback in an appropriate way can be the beginning of reconciliation and wholeness. It can be difficult to discern our own motives when we feel the need to engage an offender. Two questions I think we can ask ourselves when we are faced with these sorts of situations are, “How can I best love the other?” and “What do I hope to accomplish?” Although motives are never pure things, our own self-awareness of our motives can inform how we approach another person. We may have a lot of our own work to do before we are able to truly reconcile a relationship.

I wonder if the folks at the Vatican thought about how best to love the Beatles or asked themselves about what they hoped to accomplish by forgiving them.  If they had given this a little more thought all along, perhaps things would have been different.  Seems to me like the Vatican has more important issues to be dealing with anyway.

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