On my blog entry entitled, Talking about Child Abuse with Religious People, a reader posted the following comment:
So, the premise of this conversation here is: ‘if my religion says I should forgive, then I should forgive, however, my religion also proposes hell which means forgiveness is only for those who repent; then I don’t need to forgive.’ If your abuser’s one day came to you and told you in tears that they’re extremely sorry and repentant, would you forgive then? would you even believe them? … Why not try to decide for yourself? It seems like some of you are already doing this, but maybe you’re still looking for someone outside of yourself to tell you that it’s OK not to forgive. Is forgiveness something that you feel you need to do in order to feel peace? what does forgiveness even mean for you? (for YOU, not a definition the bible or someone gave you). I find that, when someone says something that really gets to me, it is because in some way I feel that they are right. Why is it even an issue when people tell you that you *should* forgive? do you believe them on some level? ~ Luna Sol
I have long since put this issue behind me, but at the time that I was wrestling with how to reconcile my definition of forgiveness with my religion’s definition, it wasn’t because I wanted anyone necessarily defining it for me. Instead, my faith was such an instrumental part of my healing process that what my faith had to say about different issues carried a lot of weight.
What I learned through lots of prayer and critical thinking was that church doctrine and faith are often not the same thing. The scriptures were written thousands of years ago, translated into English, interpreted by “men of the cloth,” and then passed down from generation to generation. I often wonder how many rituals and beliefs started as one thing but evolved into something else.
Part of my healing journey involved taking a step back and reading scripture from a fresh perspective without the influence of what I was always taught about a particular passage. The topic of forgiveness is one of these areas. I have come to define forgiveness as an internal choice that I make to stop nursing my bitterness toward someone who has wronged me – to stop spending my time thinking about that person. To do this requires no action on the part of the one who wronged me.
My personal definition of forgiveness has nothing whatsoever to do with reconciliation. I believe this is one area where church doctrine is way off the mark – if reconciliation were a required element of forgiveness, I simply could not do it. By my definition, I have forgiven my abusers, but I have also cut of all contact with them. I am 100% comfortable with this decision, and when questioned about it at church, I have no problem backing it up with scripture.
I have many other areas of my faith where I diverge from mainstream Christian doctrine, but I can back it all up Biblically (which is, of course, only relevant to people who believe the Bible). One example is my belief in reincarnation. All areas in which I diverge have come after lots of prayer and critical thinking, and my divergences have brought me immense healing rather than the whole “I guess we’ll know when we get to Heaven” cop out that some people give me when they are not open to considering alternative perspectives.
My advice to people who wrestle with their faith is to question it down to its core. In my opinion, any faith that cannot withstand critical thinking and Socratic questioning isn’t of much value. I am not saying that I have all the answers, but through lots of praying and questioning, I have found the answers to the questions I needed answers for the most without having to “wait to get to Heaven to ask.”
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