Less Injustice or More Humility: Two Perspectives on Forgiveness

For most of the twentieth century, western psychology has made observations on the basis of trends that can be repeatedly confirmed in the readily available population of American, white, middle-class college students. Some of these observations make a lot of sense in a world where individualism, achievement, self-esteem, and personal rights are upheld as primary values that guide thought and action. In terms of forgiveness, psychologists who’ve studied the phenomenon have found that the severity of the offense as well as the presence or absence of an apology contribute to one’s ability to … [Read more...]

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

We all like consistency between our thoughts and our actions. It is as though we have a map to a goal and we are following it. When we lose that consistency, we feel lost, distressed, and uncomfortable on account of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a condition that becomes worse in proportion to the meaning and importance of those thoughts and actions. This state of discomfort is actually a gift that under the most important of circumstances the Fathers would refer to as pangs of conscience. Those with a refined conscience for whom living in accord with God’s will is highly … [Read more...]

Religiosity, Christianity, and Forgiveness

In psychological literature, religion and spirituality are usually contrasted as the institutional and subjective aspects of individuals’ search for the sacred. Religion, in particular, is often defined by a particular constellation of feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors that accompany this sacred search and that are validated and supported by an identifiable group of people. So a Christian who feels gratitude towards God, thinks about Scripture, experiences God’s nearness, and goes to Church in ways that are shared with others in that Christians group could be called religious. One … [Read more...]

Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.

For those of us who speak without thinking and spout off when we are irritated, the sobering words of our Lord in Matthew 5:22 are often dismissed. In today’s world, words uttered in anger may be considered to be a slight offense that can be justified by the circumstances. In our own mind, we may afterwards indulge in such justifications in which our focus remains riveted not on what has come out of our mouths, but on what the other person has said or done to us. “Well, I did get angry, but he was accusing me of something I didn’t do,” or “He had it coming to him. He didn’t recognize my hard … [Read more...]

Relationships and Forgiveness

Perhaps our own experience provides us with evidence concerning the next antecedent to forgiveness: the nature of our relationship with another person. Our relationship with the one who has offended us usually does influence our willingness to forgive the offense and the offender. When we are involved in a committed relationship with another person, the sting of the offense may be more pronounced, but often our willingness to forgive is determined by the quality and history of the relationship that enable us to forgive more readily. Riek and Mania concluded similarly in writing, “Commitment … [Read more...]

Personality Traits and Forgiveness

In the first post on forgiveness, I offered a few psychological definitions of interpersonal forgiveness in terms of changing motivation, transforming emotions, letting go, and cancelling debts. While these understandings of forgiveness vary and are not unanimously accepted, they remain helpful working definitions. To proceed further, however, it’s helpful not only to understand forgiveness as a process, but also to identify the conditions that are conducive to it. This is somewhat reminiscent of the way the fathers look for the mothers of a passion or of a virtue in order to help Christians … [Read more...]

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

According to Saint Peter of Damascus, the commandments of Christ are precious gifts that can deliver our souls from both traps of the enemy and those of our own making by teaching us to be watchful about our inner state (On Discernment). Doing as Christ suggests in the area where our free will is strongest—the attention we give to a thought— in turn makes keeping the ancient commandments of the law as epitomized in the Ten Commandments nearly effortless. This is especially clear in Christ’s commandment about anger. As Saint John Chrysostom notes, “He who is not stirred up to anger, will much … [Read more...]

A New Blog Series on Forgiveness: Some Preliminary Definitions

In a fallen world, no one escapes the bumps and bruises associated with our interactions with others. Sometimes, the cuts and scrapes form gaping holes that may leave us offended and wounded, hurt by angry words, callous actions, or selfish disregard. While we can confidently affirm that conflict is an inevitable, if not unfortunate part of human life, the aftermath of such often comes down to a choice between resentment and forgiveness. This new blog series will focus attention on the latter. Forgiveness, or the lack thereof in ourselves or in others, is a subject that affects each of us, … [Read more...]

The Flexibility of Righteousness

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. One of the first lessons we are taught as children is that some things are right and other things are wrong. There are rules to follow at home. There are rules to learn in school. There are rules for the games we play. There are rules for just about everything. And if we obey the rules, we can become good little boys and girls. We can do well in school. We can win the game. And so we all learn to be very good at the rules. That’s … [Read more...]

Accepting the Paradox of Trying to Fall Sleep in order to Go to Sleep

From an early age, we are taught that we will be judged by our successes and failures. We are encouraged to study hard, make good friends, be polite, and take care of our health. All of these counsels are designed with one goal in mind: our success in life. When we fail, it is quite often assumed that failure occurred because we didn’t try hard enough or study diligently enough. We are made to believe that there is a one-to-one causal relationship between our effort and our success. However, we soon find out that life is much more complicated than that. Sometimes, there are paradoxical factors … [Read more...]